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Lobbyist's Brother Guided House Bill

A family member's ties to special interests raise questions in the case of Democrat John Murtha.

June 13, 2005|Ken Silverstein and Richard Simon | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — When Congress passed the $417-billion Pentagon spending bill last year, Rep. John P. Murtha, the top Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee, boasted about the money he secured to create jobs in his Pennsylvania district.

But the bill Murtha helped write also benefited at least 10 companies represented by a lobbying firm where his brother, Robert "Kit" Murtha, is a senior partner, according to disclosure records, interviews and an analysis of the bill by The Times.

Clients of the lobbying firm KSA Consulting -- whose top officials also include former congressional aide Carmen V. Scialabba, who worked for Rep. Murtha for 27 years -- received a total of $20.8 million from the bill.

One of the clients, a small Arkansas maker of military vehicles, received $1.7 million, triple its total sales for 2004. Several other clients received money that represented more than half of their annual sales from last year.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 15, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Lobbying chart -- A chart in Monday's Section A that showed defense appropriations and annual sales for 10 companies that received funding from the Pentagon labeled a column "annual sales in millions." The label should have said "annual sales."

KSA directly lobbied the congressman's office on behalf of seven companies that received money from the bill, records and interviews show. Among those clients, a firm based in Maryland received one of the larger individual awards, $4.2 million.

And a defense contractor based in Pennsylvania said he hired KSA on the recommendation of a top aide of the congressman.

Disclosure of Kit Murtha's ties to the lobbying firm prompted criticism from Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan Washington watchdog group that tracks government spending.

"Family members lobbying family members is becoming an all-too-common phenomenon on Capitol Hill," he said. "What's even more troubling is that decisions about defense dollars are being made at family reunions rather than the halls of Congress."

Kit Murtha said in a phone interview that he did not lobby his brother's office and that he saw no problem working for a firm that did.

"Let's be honest, the name certainly creates some kind of impression, but I can't help that," he said. "We're not doing anything improper or underhanded. I'm entitled to make a living like the next guy."

Rep. Murtha and his staff declined to answer questions for this report. In public statements, the congressman has said money he inserted into the defense bill has helped make his district a center for national defense programs and has benefited the local economy.

Murtha is the latest lawmaker to face questions about lobbying activities by family members. Political leaders from both parties have drawn criticism over similar ties to special interest groups.

The appropriations to KSA clients were made through a series of itemized awards attached to the massive Pentagon budget bill. The awards are called "earmarks" and must be sponsored by at least one member of Congress.

Requests for defense earmarks from House Democrats are sent to Rep. Murtha's subcommittee staff, which vets the submissions and decides which ones should be included in the final defense budget.

The congressman's powerful role as the ranking minority member on the subcommittee makes him a natural target of lobbying efforts by defense contractors. Most of KSA's approximately two dozen clients are small- and medium-sized defense firms, records show.

Earmarks in appropriation bills routinely list only an amount of money awarded and a description of the project to be funded -- without disclosing the name of the recipient firm.

Taxpayers for Common Sense produced a study of the defense bill this year, concluding that it contained thousands of "parochial and politically motivated" items inserted by lawmakers.

The Times identified KSA clients who received earmark money with the help of the study and through interviews with KSA officials, who confirmed details on all of its clients' appropriations.

Ken Stalder, a former Lockheed Martin executive and KSA's founder, chief executive and lead lobbyist, downplayed Kit Murtha's role at the firm. He said Murtha focused on lobbying at the state level in Pennsylvania, and although he had occasionally visited Senate offices in Washington "to give informational briefings," Kit Murtha had never lobbied his brother or any other House members.

"Having him on staff doesn't help me with Congressman Murtha's office," he said in an interview in his office. "I don't [accept some business propositions] because of Kit, because it might look funny. We never try to recruit clients by saying, 'Hey, we've got Kit Murtha.' "

Stalder said he had directly lobbied Rep. Murtha once but had worked with his aides on a number of occasions.

Most of KSA's defense contractor clients hired the firm in hopes of securing funding from Rep. Murtha's subcommittee, according to lobbying records and interviews. And most retained the firm after Kit Murtha became a senior partner in 2002.

Kit Murtha said he saw the congressman infrequently but acknowledged that his brother knew he worked for KSA.

"I don't think that influences him," he said. "I certainly would hope not."

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