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What do you get when you take a senior congressman with the ability to steer money to favored companies, a former aide to that congressman running a non-profit group, multiple lobbyists for the industry over which the congressman has a big say serving on the board, and big donations from that industry going to the group?
Well, it depends.
If the congressman has an (R) after his name, you get a major scandal and claims of a improprieties and a "culture of corruption" trumpeted throughout the mainstream media. If the congressman has a (D) after his name, you get a story that is more-or-less ignored and published on Christmas Day, when almost no one is paying attention to the news.
Which explains why the story that follows was published on December 25, 2006 in the Washington Post, and accounted for only a couple of short paragraphs in the wire-service reports highlighting denials of wrong-doing rather than possible improprieties.
Oh, and the congressman in question? John Murtha, an unindicted co-conspirator from Abscam who has previously been linked to preferential treatment for clients of his brother's lobbying firm and other shady deals.
For a quarter of a century, Carmen Scialabba labored for Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), helping parcel out the billions of dollars that came through the House Appropriations Committee, so when the disabled aide needed a favor, Murtha was there.
In 2001, Murtha announced the creation of Scialabba's nonprofit agency for the disabled in Johnstown, Pa. The next year, with Scialabba still on his staff, Murtha secured a half-million dollars for the group, the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals With Disabilities (PAID), and put another $150,000 in the pipeline for 2003, according to appropriations committee records and former committee aides. Since then, the group has helped hundreds of disabled people find work.
But the group serves another function as well. PAID has become a gathering point for defense contractors and lobbyists with business before Murtha's defense appropriations subcommittee, and for Pennsylvania businesses and universities that have thrived on federal money obtained by Murtha.
Lobbyists and corporate officials serve as directors on the nonprofit group's board, where they help raise money and find jobs for Johnstown's disabled workers. Some of those lobbyists have served as intermediaries between the defense contractors and businessmen on the board, and Murtha and his aides.
That arrangement over the years has yielded millions of dollars in federal support for the contractors, businesses and universities, and hundreds of thousands in consulting and lobbying fees to Murtha's favored lobbying shops, according to Federal Election Commission records and lobbying disclosure forms. In turn, many of PAID's directors have kept Murtha's campaigns flush with cash.
What sort of stuff are we talking about? Well, take a look at some of the specific examples.
After PAID's founding, Scialabba approached Kuchera [Bill Kuchera, chief executive of Kuchera Industries of Windber, PA] to get involved. Kuchera jumped, not only joining the group's board but ramping up hiring of disabled workers, who now compose a third of the 200 employees in his company's defense business. The federal government picked up Kuchera's $7 million training bill. This year, Murtha earmarked $1.3 million for Kuchera's chemical and biological weapons detection research.
Kuchera employees donated more than $31,000 to Murtha in the past three election campaigns, according to federal election records. Between 1990 and 2000, contributions totaled $1,000. And congressional lobbying disclosure forms tally $140,000 in payments since 2001 from Kuchera to Ervin Technical Associates, whose chairman is former representative Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.), a close Murtha ally.
The Kuchera experience is not unique. Ed Washington, another PAID director, hails from MTS Technologies, an Arlington defense contractor that recently secured $8.9 million in federal funds to expand its Johnstown facility. MTS's lobbyist, the PMA Group, has disclosed some $300,000 in fees from the company since 1998. And PMA has returned the favor: Since 1989, the firm's employees have given Murtha $107,500.
Daniel DeVos, an honorary PAID board member, represents Concurrent Technologies, whose employees have lavished Murtha with more than $53,000 in campaign contributions and PMA with $820,000 in fees. That may sound steep, but the rewards have been substantial: a $150 million contract to operate the Navy Metalworking Center; a $4 million contract from the Army to evaluate fuel-cell systems; and $1.7 million for a weapons of mass destruction response laboratory, among others.
Seems like a tidy little system in which the industries are buying access and favors using a charitable group. Isn't that something that the Democrats accused Tom DeLay of doing, claiming it was unethical, or at least had an "appeaance of impropriety"? What about Murtha?
This ought to be the first test case for the Democrats when it comes to dealing with lobbying and ethics reform as Nancy Pelosi seeks to "drain the ethical swamp" and undo the so-called "culture of corruption" that Democrats claim has existed in Congress. But Pelosi, of course, is one of Murtha's biggest supporters and she tried to put him in a senior leadership role. Will she play favorites,or will she keep her word?
Oh, and by the way -- Murtha isn't the only member of Congress who may have improper relations with a PAID director.
Another PAID director, Jim Estep, is a central figure in an investigation of Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), a Murtha ally and fellow member of the Appropriations Committee. Estep heads the West Virginia High-Technology Consortium Foundation and the Institute for Scientific Research, two nonprofit organizations that Mollohan helped set up and has plied with federal funds.
Yes, that is the same Alan Mollohan who is under FBI investigation for using non-profit groups to benefit himself and who lied on financial disclosure forms -- and who got thrown off the Ethics Committee as a result, but who still remains on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the better to steer contacts to his supporters and his district.
And let me say one thing clearly -- I think efforts to aid disabled individuals are important. I've witnessed first-hand the difficulties that such folks face in finding employment, even when they have the skills to do the job. I believe that organizations that assist the disabled in finding employment and encouraging employers to see past the disabilities serve a truly noble goal. I'm therefore particularly incensed that Murtha and Scialabba chose such an organization to hide their illicit pork machine.
(By the way -- you should see the squealing posts from liberals in the comments over at end of the article -- this article is seen as a betrayal and an outrage)