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What the House ethics papers say about the PMA probe

The supposedly confidential report sheds new light on an ongoing investigation about the relationship between a powerful House subcommittee and PMA Group, an influential lobbying firm.

October 31, 2009|James Oliphant

WASHINGTON — A confidential document prepared by the House Ethics Committee was inadvertently made available to the Washington Post on Thursday after a committee staffer placed it on an Internet file-sharing service. The report, prepared in July, details the status of 19 active investigations of House members. Most notably, the report sheds new light on an ongoing investigation about the relationship between a powerful House subcommittee and a once-influential lobbying firm, PMA Group.

What is the PMA Group?

The now-defunct firm was started in 1989 by Paul Magliocchetti, a former staffer on the House appropriations subcommittee on defense. The panel, chaired by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), sets funding for the Pentagon. It is alleged that for years, PMA was part of a pay-for-play operation in which it benefited from billions of dollars in earmarks in exchange for campaign contributions from its clients to Murtha and some members of the subcommittee. The FBI raided PMA's offices late last year. No one connected to the firm has been charged with a crime.

What did the leaked report reveal?

It showed that the ethics probe is wider than originally believed. Murtha long has been known to be the subject of two House ethics panels' inquiries, but the leaked document reportedly makes it clear that almost half of the appropriations subcommittee's members are being investigated. The Post reports that the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which is separate from the House Ethics Committee, is looking to see whether House members may have accepted "items of value" from PMA's political action committee in exchange for "an official act."

Which subcommittee members are subjects of the inquiries?

Murtha; four other Democrats, Reps. Norm Dicks (Washington), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), James P. Moran (Virginia) and Peter J. Visclosky (Indiana); and two Republicans, Reps. Todd Tiahrt (Kansas) and C.W. "Bill" Young (Florida). No specific allegations of wrongdoing have been tied to any particular member. According to the nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, Murtha sponsored $54.1 million in earmarks for PMA clients and Visclosky sponsored $34.4 million.

What happens now?

The Office of Congressional Ethics can only refer matters to the House Ethics Committee. The ethics committee has the power to subpoena records and hold hearings. It can recommend a range of sanctions, including expulsion, censure or a reprimand. The House must vote on the sanction. And there is still the ongoing federal probe of PMA.

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joliphant@latimes.com

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