Scandal: House of Murtha

Updated Feb. 11

Federal prosecutors are investigating two companies with strong ties to Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). In November 2008, the FBI raided the office of PMA Group, a lobbying shop founded by a former Murtha aide, and in late January, agents from the FBI, IRS and Defense Criminal Investigative Service raided the offices of Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries, defense contractors in Murtha’s district.

Rep. John Murtha (Lauren Victoria Burke/wdcpix.com)Both PMA Group and the Kuchera companies have donated generously to Murtha’s campaigns. And they have reason to want to keep him in office: As the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Murtha has been a rainmaker.

PMA Group specializes in lobbying for defense companies, and a large portion of its clients are clustered in and around Murtha’s district. Since 2002, PMA Group and its clients have raised a total of about $1.7 million for Murtha. PMA Group also committed $25,000 to a favorite charity of Murtha’s, the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra. And when Murtha was suddenly facing a tough re-election campaign last year after calling some of his constituents “racists” and “rednecks,” PMA Group employees and clients kicked in $110,000 in the final two weeks of his campaign. The firm and its clients ended up being five of the top 10 donors to that campaign.

Meanwhile, thanks to Murtha, PMA Group clients have raked in millions from government contracts: The lawmaker steered 26 earmarks worth a total of $93.1 million to clients of PMA Group in 2007 and 2008 alone.

The Kuchera companies have also benefited from Murtha’s role as gatekeeper to Pentagon coffers. According to the Washington Post, they “won $50 million in Pentagon contracts from 2001 to 2008, and have long-term contracts that could be worth more than $100 million over a decade.” That includes two projects worth a combined $6.5 million steered their way by Murtha last year. Kuchera employees have donated more than $65,000 to Murtha’s campaigns and PACs.

According to the New York Times, the investigation into PMA Group focuses on whether the firm “funneled bogus campaign contributions” to Murtha. The Tribune Democrat reports that the Kuchera investigation is looking into “potential misuse of corporate funds,” focusing in part on the LBK Game Ranch, which is owned by CEO Bill Kuchera and was the site of a “high-end fundraiser” for Murtha last fall. Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Feb. 11, “We have not been contacted by any federal agency, and no one is suggesting that Jack Murtha has anything to do with this. Period.”

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