WASHINGTON — Nearly half the members of the House subcommittee that oversees more than $600 billion in Pentagon spending have been targeted by ethics investigators who are probing the conduct of a once-influential Washington lobbying firm, according to a confidential document that the House Ethics Committee says was inadvertently exposed.
The seven members -- five Democrats and two Republicans -- received campaign donations from clients of the firm while sponsoring federal spending on projects that benefited the clients. The revelations from the secretive ethics committee could have serious consequences for the members named. Republicans quickly indicated that they would use the disclosures in their effort to take control of the House in next year's congressional election.
The document, prepared by the ethics committee in July, reportedly detailed a number of active ethics inquiries into House members.
The investigations were reported by the Washington Post, which obtained the ethics report after a committee staffer uploaded it to a file-sharing network, the committee said. Ethics committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) confirmed that a confidential committee document had been exposed to unauthorized access.
Responding to what they described as a "data breach," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) promised an "immediate and comprehensive assessment" of the House's handling of sensitive information.
The appropriations subcommittee on defense has been under scrutiny since federal agents raided the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group late last year. In June, the probe widened as the FBI subpoenaed records relating to PMA from the office of Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), a subcommittee member who sponsored millions in earmarks that benefited PMA clients. No charges have been filed.
The firm was founded by longtime Pentagon lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, a former appropriations subcommittee staff member. Over the years it obtained for its clients billions of dollars in earmarks -- many of which were sponsored by members of the subcommittee. The firm's lobbying income peaked at $16 million in 2006. PMA and its clients showered subcommittee members and other members of Congress with campaign contributions.
In June, the House Ethics Committee disclosed that it had opened an investigation into PMA's relationship with lawmakers. Attention centered on subcommittee Chairman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), whose ability to deliver federal dollars to his district is renowned. But the Post revealed that other panel members were being scrutinized too: Visclosky and three other Democrats, Reps. Norm Dicks of Washington, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and James P. Moran of Virginia; as well as two Republicans, Reps. C.W. "Bill" Young of Florida and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas.
None of those lawmakers has been tied to a specific allegation of wrongdoing.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the biggest recipients of contributions from PMA and its clients were Murtha, who has received more than $2.3 million since 1989, and Visclosky, who has received more than $1.3 million.
The ethics committee appears to be conducting an investigation on a parallel track with another House ethics panel, the new Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body created to screen complaints and refer them to the ethics committee for further review.
Ethics office investigators spoke to Kaptur and members of her staff two weeks ago. "Marcy Kaptur doesn't have anything to hide. There are no secrets here," said Steve Fought, a spokesman for the congresswoman.
Fought said Kaptur had been included in the group named by the ethics committee simply because she sponsored earmarks that benefited companies which had, it turned out, hired PMA to lobby Congress. That, he said, was different than promising services in exchange for campaign funds.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) said that his staff was recently interviewed by ethics investigators after Nunes complained that he was threatened by a PMA lobbyist for refusing to sponsor an earmark to benefit a PMA client in Nunes' district. The lobbyist threatened that the client would move out of the district, taking jobs with it, Nunes said.
"This is a huge problem that needs to get cleaned up," Nunes said. "Some members reject it. Some members thrive on it."
Along with the growing PMA scandal, Democrats have been dogged by ethics questions surrounding Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York.
This week's disclosure detailed aspects of the continuing investigation into Rangel's personal finances, as well as providing new details about an ethics inquiry into Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) over real estate holdings. That effort has been suspended at the request of the Justice Department while it pursues its own investigation.
Republicans were crowing Friday about corruption on the Hill.
"This is evidence of the fact that Nancy Pelosi is standing knee-deep in the very swamp she promised to drain," said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Her decisions to stand by corrupt members of Congress like John Murtha and Charlie Rangel are putting members of the Democratic caucus at risk in 2010."