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« Washington, Banks, and Struggling Homeowners | Main | Michael Winship: What's So Funny About Washington? »

Michael Winship - Murtha: If I'm Corrupt, It's Because I Care

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

''Murtha: If I'm Corrupt, It's Because I Care''
By Michael Winship

Headline in the May 2 NEW YORK TIMES: “Murtha’s Nephew Named a Lobbyist for Marines.” Headline just three days later in the May 5 WASHINGTON POST: “Murtha’s Nephew Got Defense Contracts.”

Guess what? Two different nephews. They’re brothers, though, each blessed with the same, beneficent and no doubt beloved uncle – Pennsylvania Congressman John P. Murtha, Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee – friend of the military-industrial complex; a man who’s generous to family and constituents, always ready to lend an ear – or, rather, earmark.

His nephew Colonel Brian Murtha, a Marine helicopter pilot, has been transferred to the Marines’ legislative liaison office – which deals with Congress and Murtha’s subcommittee -- and has even moved into the same Virginia condo building as his Uncle Jack. “It does not appear to violate any rules or ethics guidelines,” the TIMES reported, “though it may well raise some eyebrows among legislative liaisons competing for resources on behalf of the other military services.”

The other nephew – Robert C. Murtha, Jr. – a former Marine, runs a company in Glen Burnie, Maryland, called Murtech Inc. According to The WASHINGTON POST, “Last year, Murtech received $4 million in Pentagon work, all of it without competition, for a variety of warehousing and engineering services.”

Murtha, Jr., denied that his uncle had anything to do with his business success, but on Monday, the POST revealed documents that “show Robert Murtha mentioning his influential family connection as leverage in his business dealings and holding unusual power in his dealings with the military.” In the e-mail’s obtained by the POST, Murtha tells associates that part of the federal money must be spent in Uncle Jack’s hometown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

POST reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Alice Crites described Murtech’s HQ as a “bland building… blinds drawn tight and few signs of life. On several days of visits, a handful of cars sit in the parking lot, and no trucks arrive at the 10 loading bays at the back of the building.” And a former employee of the company told the POST, “I was always thinking, ‘Why is the government paying this company?’ If it’s fair to have this kind of no-bid work, I’ll start a company and do it for half as much. Because this company didn’t do anything.”

Robert, Jr., and Brian are the sons of Jack Murtha’s brother Robert Murtha, Sr., known as “Kit,” who, as the POST notes, “built a longtime lobbying practice around clients seeking defense funds through the Appropriations Committee and became one of the top members of KSA, a lobbying firm whose contract clients often received multimillion-dollar earmarks directed through the committee chairman.” Kit Murtha retired three years ago.

So, just as the Quakers came to the Keystone State to do good and then did well, many amongst the Murthas of Pennsylvania have prospered. But thanks to Congressman Murtha, the defense industry and his home district in western Pa. have fared even better.

Rep. Jack Murtha is himself a former Marine and Eagle Scout, a decorated veteran (the first Vietnam vet to serve in Congress, elected in 1974). He has long been a champion of the military, especially the enlisted men and women, and has spoken angrily about the lack of proper treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder among those who have fought in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was Murtha who in November 2005 announced, “The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.”

But it’s also Murtha who was named one of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress by the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Last year, ESQUIRE magazine named him one of the ten worst members of Congress because of his opposition to ethics reform limiting the use of earmarks, funds for those favorite slices of pork slipped into appropriations bills. (Murtha called the ethics reform bill “total crap.”)

Since Murtha joined the appropriations committee, the group Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that he has sent more than $2 billion worth of pork back home, more than any other congressman ($192.5 million in the 2008 budget alone).

“If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district,” he told the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, a sentiment that may go down in political history with that familiar saying from the 19th century, “An honest politician is one who when he’s bought, stays bought.”

Murtha’s largesse has funded, among other projects, the National Drug Intelligence Center, in beautiful downtown Johnstown, which critics say duplicates intelligence gathering in Washington and along the Texas-Mexico border; and Pennsylvania State University’s Electro-Optics Center, a defense research facility, which has received $250 million in federal funding, “a significant portion” of which, according to an earlier WASHINGTON POST investigation, is channeled “to companies that were among Murtha’s campaign supporters.”

But my personal favorite is the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, affectionately known around his district as “Fort Murtha.” Over the last ten years, the 650-acre mountaintop airport has received $200 million in federal cash and yet, on weekdays, only six commercial flights take off from or land there, all of them headed to or from, surprise, Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC. Just recently, this “airport for nobody” became one of the first to receive stimulus money -- $800,000 to widen runways.

About thirty million dollars of the taxpayers’ money have been spent to beef the place up so it also can handle jumbo military aircraft and serve as a warehouse for military supplies in case a national emergency cuts off Pittsburgh International Airport, two hours away. There’s a Marine helicopter base there, a National Guard training center, even an $8.6 million, high tech radar system, but it’s never been used because the Pennsylvania National Guard is in charge and they haven’t got the manpower to operate it.

Supporters defend the airport not only as useful for the military but as a lure for businesses considering relocation in the area. In fact, without the money he’s brought in, Murtha said, the city of Johnstown – its once busy steel industry long dead – “would have been like Detroit is today. We would have been a ghost town.”

But as a recent editorial in the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE opined, “Sure, plenty of people in Johnstown are grateful. But Mr. Murtha’s insistence that this is how the process must work misses the reality that his constituents deserve to have their tax dollars spent on projects that have proven their value through competitive bidding and impartial evaluation. A view that the ends justify the means leaves too many questions: Are the projects necessary? Is the method of selection fair? Are political contributors the real winners?”

Which brings us to the other shoe scheduled to drop in the coming weeks and months. In November, the FBI raided the offices of the PMA Group, a lobbying firm founded twenty years ago by former Murtha aide Paul Magliocchetti that brought in earmarked defense contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They searched Magliocchetti’s home, too, and last month, PMA went out of business.

Reportedly, the investigation is focusing initially on whether PMA used various individuals as straw men -- conduits for illegal campaign contributions -- and if free meals and other gifts from the high-rolling Magliocchetti were bribes linked to votes from members of Murtha’s subcommittee.

From 1998, PMA clients gave more than $7.8 million in campaign contributions to subcommittee members, including $2.4 million to Jack Murtha. Oddly enough, the WALL STREET JOURNAL’s John Fund has pointed out, those contributions often were made in March, around the time earmark requests are made.

“Many on Capitol Hill,” the NEW YORK TIMES reported March 30th, “recalling the scandal that mushroomed around the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are wondering who will be ensnared in the investigation as prosecutors pore over the financial records and computer files of one of K Street’s most influential lobbyists.”

As accusations of bribery and fraud mount and the FBI probe continues, Jack Murtha and his colleagues better batten down the hatches and prepare for a whole new Johnstown Flood.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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Comments

I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

I have never been subjected to such absurdity...I'm corrupt because I care? If this weren't so serious, I'd be laughing my butt off.

finally people are leaning toward free healthcare paid by taxes. no more games with the insurance company bearocracy. its been a long time coming, far too long and hopefully we will have insurance that won't make people bankrupt or force them to leave their home. old people can get care once the government agrees.

Thank you Michael for putting a spotlight on this issue! It is hard nowadays to find journalists who stand up for ordinary citizens and actually investigate stories. Now if we can get somebody to take action, that would be good.

I would like to express my sincerest apology to everyone, especially to Mr. Murtha. I meant not to express any negativity toward anyone personally, as I believe all viewpoints contain some truth and should be allowed into the area of debate.

Jack Martin you were correct in stating I could have reduced my post just to just a couple of sentences and appreciate your input. I thought I would recall what seems to me many economists have lost sight of-- basic 101 economics. Also as of then I had not even read this particular article of Winship’s many social contributions. I meant to place my blog under Moyers Journal / Durbin- Washington, Banks, and Struggling. May 8, 2009, which may or may not change its relativity.

Get rid of the Senority Scheme in both houses of Congress or
this extended financial crisis better end soon 'cause Congress will demand more tax money---yours!

Hey! It worked for Treasury.

Billy Bob, Florida its ok to tax them as long as i get a stimulus

Thank you, Michael, for your reporting.

The practices you describe are, of course, as old as human nature: specifically, our tendency to sacrifice the good of the whole for personal or narrow gain. As unhealthy as earmarks and no-bid contracts are for the political body, they sure taste good to those who are fortunate enough to be at the table.

What check or balance is there for Murtha's power? It wouldn't seem that the people of his district have any incentive to vote him out-- in fact, just the opposite. His colleagues in Congress also stand to gain from these practices, as they enable each other to bring home the bacon and thus increase their chances for re-election. The check or balance to this power has to come from outside the system-- an argument for, among other things, a strong and independent journalism.

Hamilton, Jay, and Madison envisioned that we would be a republic, ruled by elected people who could discern the greater good, and act as stewards of the greater good. We have descended to a lower form of democracy, however, ruled by shortsightedness and appetite. For this we are all responsible.

EllisH: I have read carefully your entire short essay. Your observation is correct but could have been summed up in one or two short sentences. Furthermore, it bears little relation to daily life. Abstractions, juxipositions of words, don't offer much solution.

This is not to criticize you, but to make another observation. I am also dealing with abstraction when I suggest socialism as an alternative to present corporate capitalism and downplay Winship's factual reporting.

What I should have said is that our law should be influenced by human needs and supercede business wealth; that rulemaking within government will be ineffectual if it does not reflect the greater values of society. Weakening of corporate citizenship and refuting voluntary money expenditure as a form of free speech might be a better place to begin reform.

If a Marine is deployed with weapons and combat training he is unlikely to engage in social work or peacemaking. Jack Murtha is a practical man, with the normal family loyalties, who has been deployed into a network of power-mad dealmaking dominated by wealth. he's acting like a Marine.

To reform this culture we need to change the mission and the training. that's what EllisH could have stated in one or two short sentences. My apologies to Michael and Ellis. People are not getting together to formulate practical solutions. Writers here repeatedly ask why not. I think panic has overcome rationality and that we all fear one another. Trust has been rendered artificially scarce. A person without a selfish agenda in our society is perceived as crazy.

Excessive imbalance and disintegration is indivisible.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for an excessive man to enter into the kingdom of balance.
We are in this depression because our choice of leadership for decades has been atrocious. Asking they who make their profit by excessive inequity to guard the scales of justice is asking a fox to guard the hen house. To elect or only allow in the arena of government advocates of non-limitation to affect the criterions of balance, is the insanity of programmed failure, universal suicide. No man can serve both balance and excessiveness.
The requirement of enormous wealth to enter the arena of politics keeps out the advocates of justice or equality.
As long as enormous wealth is the criterion to enter the arena of politics achieving a state of justice or balance will always be an endless struggle.

Excessiveness is a breach of moral tolerance.
To moralize excessiveness one must demoralize equity (justice) that is to relocate or a denial of true ‘Center’. To profit excessively one can never establish truthful or just boundaries. To maintain excessive inequity each institution of government or the greater part there of, must be as it is, a deceptive and pretentious body of regulation.

Government is regulation or limitation to achieve and maintain a state of balance.
Absolute equality is as undesirable or unhealthy as absolute or excessive inequality.
Absolute equality is impossible, but residence within tolerance of a just standard is not impossible. Limitation is the criterion of balance thus justice is a moral issue. To govern is to limit. Government and regulation is indivisible.
Justice (balance) dictates that we must be as concerned about excessive wealth as that of excessive poverty. The Armageddon of imbalance is reached by conceding to passions that draws one outside the tolerance of balance or justice.
Balance, equivalence, equality, regulation, limitation, justice and coordination are indivisible.
Insanity is to continuously elect advocates of non-limitation to establish a state of balance.

A standard that dosen’t place the tolerances of minimum and maximum is of no value. Minimum must be attached to maximum to insure consistency and stability; that is minimum as a percentage of a maximum. This still allows education and hard labor it’s due rewarded and degrees of rank and file; yet still confined within moral boundaries.

This present depression should enlighten us that regardless of how many certificates of scholarly achievement one has or employs, they who champion non-limitation cannot but eventually lead the world into a state of catastrophic irretrievable balance. A multitude of ignored deceptions, increasing inequity and deformity should convince one at the very least, their government is but a pretentious icon of real government. A standard of non-limitation can only experience exponential decay. We should be establishing boundaries instead of bailing out the chief advocates of unrestrained capitalism that leads to the exploitation, deception, and adultery of the world’s populace and the environment. It is when one is waving their arms, struggling (warring) for control that the reality of imbalance is most obvious.

Limitation in the search for truth is to predetermine a conclusion. For decades the national election committee has supported the intentional prejudice of not allowing in the arena of debate the hard questions a third or tenth party would ask. It would it not be better to answer ten questions to get to the truth then to withhold one question or not to question any answer. Clarity and calibration to a supreme standard are the criterions of accuracy, truth and moral administration. Limitation in the arena of debate is to bias a conclusion.

Healthy freedom or liberty (divergence) is that found within the boundaries of a just or impartial standard. Moral socialism or capitalism (justice) is limited inequality or deviance. It is only within tolerance of a universal ‘Supreme Standard’ that the peek of universal abundance and health can be realized. Maximum goodness and moderation is indivisible. Universal government is the criterion of universal balance. Excessiveness in times of emergency must be counteracted by excessiveness, but must never become ordinary or the standard.

If the Moyers Journal is canceled Michael, you should send your resume to Jack Murtha's office. You seem to already understand how the system works and so wouldn't need any training. Audacity is the last refuge in a corrupt system, and if it ain't against the law or prevailing cultural mores it is normal operating procedure. What we often fail to understand is that lawmaking is subservient to
corporate capitalism and must meet its needs. As far back a Rutherford B. Hayes, US presidents have openly observed that ours is a government by, for and about corporations. We the people must move beyond capitalism or perish. There can be no reform by tinkering at the margins as Obama is doing. You know this Michael: Admit it! Quit exposing phantoms. It is useless.

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