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Corruption Chronicles

House Kills Ethics Bill

Shortly after approving a spending bill containing thousands of earmarks worth billions of dollars, the House killed an ethics resolution that would have launched a probe into the connection between campaign cash and congressional earmark requests.

A Republican lawmaker, Arizona Representative Jeff Flake, sponsored the proposal amid the federal investigation of a powerful lobbying firm that has contributed millions of dollars to politicians in the last decade. In return, the legislators have steered hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to the firm’s clients as well as lucrative no-bid government contracts.

Last month the FBI raided the offices of the Virginia-based firm (PMA Group), which has close ties to senior Democratic appropriators, including Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha who chairs the powerful Defense Appropriations subcommittee. In fact, PMA was founded by one of Murtha’s aides and in 2008 alone the firm’s clients got nearly $300 million in taxpayer earmarks.

Flake’s proposal would have forced the House Ethics Committee to investigate ties between the source and timing of campaign contributions to legislators who later requested earmarks for special projects associated with the donors. The measure specifically mentioned influence peddling between members of Congress and outside interests seeking federal funding.

Voting mostly along party lines, the House rejected the proposal 226-182 although 17 Democrats joined Republicans in support of considering it. The vote came shortly after the House approved a $410 billion spending bill which, incredibly, contained $8.8 billion for projects sought by clients of the PMA lobbying group.

Murtha, the lawmaker who has steered the most taxpayer dollars to PMA clients, had no comment on the vote but Flake pointed out the weakness of ethics guidelines and campaign contributions. "When members of Congress can give no-bid contracts to campaign donors, we’ve got a problem," Flake said.


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