Hill ethics office calls on Justice to probe donations-earmarks link

by Chuck Neubauer, The Washington Times

The Office of Congressional Ethics asked the Justice Department on Thursday to investigate whether campaign donations by clients of a now-defunct lobbying firm played a role in the award of earmarks, or special spending requests, by members of a House Appropriations subcommittee for their pending projects.

The OCE’s eight-member board, in a statement, said it voted unanimously to refer evidence to the Justice Department gathered during an investigation “concerning appropriations earmarks” involving the PMA Group, which was raided by FBI agents in November 2008 and is now the focus of a grand jury investigation.

The referral is in conflict with a decision in February by the House ethics committee, which cleared House Appropriations defense subcommittee members, including the now-deceased Rep. John P. Murtha, of any wrongdoing in their award of earmarks to help fund projects by PMA clients.

The ethics committee ruled there was no proof the lawmakers had traded earmarks for campaign donations.

But the OCE said the evidence it collected pertains to a factual finding “that certain persons and companies saw their campaign donations as affecting decisions about earmarks.” Part of the new evidence gathered by the OCE during its nine-month investigation included e-mails outlining the belief by PMA clients that campaign contributions would help obtain earmarks.

Earlier this year, the OCE reported that some defense contractor clients of the Arlington, Va.-based PMA thought their campaign contributions to members of the appropriations defense subcommittee played a role in their getting the members to insert earmarks in appropriations bills.

The OCE, which conducts preliminary ethics inquiries, investigated seven members of the subcommittee for their ties to PMA and its founder, Paul Magliocchetti, who once worked on the panel with Mr. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, who died in February.

To read more, visit: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/27/hill-ethics-office-calls-on-justice-to-probe-donat/

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