Political Hay

Murky Jack Murtha

The left's new anti-war icon could teach Tom DeLay a thing or two about cozy ties to lobbyists -- so why is the press not investigating?

By 2.1.06

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In the last year, ever since Tom DeLay became embroiled in the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Washington Post alone has published 168 articles mentioning Abramoff and DeLay. The Post's dogged Abramoff investigator, Susan Schmidt, has written 39 articles on Jack Abramoff in the last two years. Almost half of those made page A1 of the Post, and most were over 1,000 words in length. The Post has written enough about this scandal to fill a book -- literally -- and they probably will.

Since Rep. John Murtha made his splash in November with his call for an American troop withdrawal from Iraq, there have been no stories about Robert C. "Kit" Murtha in the Post. In fact, the Post has never mentioned Kit Murtha. A quick Lexis Nexis search turns up only a dozen or so mentions of "Kit" Murtha, Robert C. Murtha, or Robert Murtha in the last 15 years. Who is "Kit" Murtha?

He's John Murtha's brother -- a Washington lobbyist whose firm reeled in more than $20 million for its defense contractor clients in the 2004 Defense appropriations bill. And the Pennsylvania congressman is the ranking Democrat on the Defense appropriations subcommittee, which he also chaired for six years before Democrats lost the House in 1994.

It's a cozy relationship the likes of which are garnering heavy attention these days in Washington. Roy Blunt's family connections to K Street have received extensive coverage, as have Harry Reid's. Yet despite a front page story in the Los Angeles Times last June exposing Kit Murtha's firm's enormous success in steering defense contracts to its clients, other newspapers have been mostly silent: the Times has yet to follow up, and Murtha's lobbying ties have earned coverage by Roll Call and only single mentions in the Village Voice, Investor's Business Daily, and the Boston Globe just this week.

If Murtha were a powerful Republican legislator, the media would probably be all over this story. A former aide from John Murtha's office, Carmen V. Scialabba, is a top official at KSA Consulting, where Kit Murtha is a senior partner. KSA has directly lobbied Murtha's office on behalf of defense clients that directly benefited from the 2004 Defense bill. Murtha's subcommittee staff helps write Defense appropriations bills and oversees the lucrative earmark requests forwarded by Democrats. The contracts for KSA clients in the bill were entirely earmarks, the L.A. Times found. The Times also reported that most of KSA's defense clients hired the firm only after Kit Murtha became a senior partner in 2002.

The Hill reported in October that John Murtha is the top House recipient of campaign contributions from the defense industry for the past three years. As of the October 31, 2005 Federal Election Commission report, Murtha had received over $200,000 from defense firms in the 2006 election cycle, surpassing the next highest recipient by over $60,000.

Kit Murtha has been lobbying for defense firms since at least 1986, when he became Westinghouse's chief lobbyist in Harrisburg. In 1994, National Journal reported, Westinghouse made Kit Murtha its director of state and local government affairs, in which role he would also lobby the Pennsylvania congressional delegation in Washington. At that time, John Murtha chaired the defense appropriations subcommittee.

And what's more, Murtha's no stranger to congressional corruption scandals. Though eventually cleared by the House ethics committee (which means nothing legally), John Murtha was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Abscam scandal. (Abscam was an FBI sting operation of members of Congress from 1978 to 1980 in which one senator and five representatives were convicted of bribery and conspiracy.) As the Cybercast News Service recently detailed, Murtha was videotaped telling an undercover FBI agent, "I'm not interested. I'm sorry... at this point." When the House ethics committee cleared Murtha in 1981, CNS reported, the committee's lead counsel, E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., quickly resigned. When asked by Roll Call if he had resigned because of the committee's Murtha vote, he said that would be "a logical conclusion." Prettyman has otherwise declined to comment on the Murtha case.

An ethically suspect member of Congress, with close, personal connections to lobbyists whose clients are benefited by his committee? What more could the Washington Post need to begin sniffing around? And now that John Murtha's a nationally prominent politician, he should naturally attract closer scrutiny.

Perhaps that national prominence is steering the major press away. When Cybercast News Service asked Murtha about his Abscam past, he answered, "Questions about my record are clearly an attempt to distract attention from the real issue, which is that our brave men and women in uniform are dying and being injured every day in the middle of a civil war that can be resolved only by the Iraqis themselves." Rep. Murtha's office said he was giving interviews all day yesterday and would be unavailable for comment.

John Murtha is apparently using a controversy he created in November to shield himself from his ethical past. His comments about the war in Iraq make for convenient cover in an increasingly critical ethical atmosphere. The major media's silence is deafening.

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About the Author

David Holman is a reporter for The American Spectator.