Hoyer says Murtha and other Dems should be investigated

Did lawmakers exchange millions in earmarks for campaign contributions?

Michael Bonfigli
At a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast on Thursday morning, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that the House "clearly expressed its desire to have [an investigation] done" on ties between a lobbying firm and some Members of Congress.

Responding to charges of a leadership cover-up, House majority leader Steny Hoyer said that “substantial questions had been raised” on the ties between lawmakers and the now-disbanded PMA lobbying group.

“This is a serious matter and it ought to be dealt with,” Rep. Hoyer (D) of Maryland told a Monitor-sponsored breakfast Thursday.

At issue is whether several members of the House Appropriations Committee, including Reps. Peter Visclosky (D) of Indiana and John Murtha (D) of Pennsylvania, exchanged millions in congressional earmarks for campaign contributions from the now-defunct lobby group.

On Wednesday, the House voted 270-134 to refer to the House ethics panel a resolution that directs it to report back on any actions it has taken on these allegations. If this sounds convoluted, Republicans say it is -- and deliberately so.

“What we did today has the same effect as dropping a bill in the hopper," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona, in a statement after the vote. "No further action is required."

Even though the House did not mandate the Ethics panel to investigate, Hoyer says that “the House clearly expressed its desire to have [it] done.”

“It’s a very difficult problem. On the one hand, the requirement for confidentiality and on the other hand, the requirement to let the public know that in fact action is being taken,” he said.

“Hopefully the action we took yesterday will have a positive effect on the public’s perception that in fact the House believes that action ought to be taken -- looking into the matter to see if rules and laws have been violated,” he added. “If nothing happens over the next 45 days, I would expect stronger action.”

Corruption allegations have been the weapon of choice for felling House leaders since insurgent Republican Newt Gingrich of Georgia toppled (and later replaced) Speaker Jim Wright (D) of Texas in 1989. GOP ties with convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff were a rallying cry for Democrats to take back the House in 2006.

But with subpoenas issued last week to Rep. Visclosky by federal investigators looking into PMA, the issue hit closer to home. Some Democrats joined GOP calls for investigation.

“I am pleased the House leadership finally has agreed this matter needs an investigation,” Rep. Paul Hodes (D) of New Hampshire said in a statement after Wednesday’s vote. “Campaign contributions and earmarks should not mix and create the appearance of impropriety. We need to hold Congress to the highest ethical standards.”

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