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Ethics probe so big lawmakers have to take a number -- half the Pentagon spending committee caught in net

October 30, 2009 |  8:27 am

Congress prepares for State of the Union address by the president

We already knew that Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel was under investigation for failing to report some of his real estate holdings and rental income, and a few other goodies, on his financial disclosure forms. And that the Ethics Committee was studying Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha's ties to defense contractors.

Now it turns out that those two were just the tip of the iceberg.

Turns out that nearly half the members of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which Murtha chairs, are under investigation for funneling millions in federal funds to clients of a lobbyist who used to work on the Hill. The charge: They put earmarks worth $300 million in the  2008 Defense appropriation bill to benefit clients of the PMA Group, a now-defunct....

... lobbying firm headed by Paul Magliocchetti, a former aide to the committee.

And what did they get in return? According to CQ MoneyLine, which ran the numbers earlier this year, the same House members who took responsibility for PMA’s earmarks in that spending bill have, since 2001, accepted a cumulative $1,815,138 in campaign contributions from PMA’s political action committee and employees of the firm.

Usually, the Ethics Committee keeps its proceedings secret. Something about the presumption of innocence.

But this time,  a low-level staffer made a mistake and put some documents in a place where they could be accessed and someone noticed and leaked them to the Washington Post. Or that's what the Post says. The New York Daily News put it a little more succinctly, saying the docs were "cyber-hacked."

A couple of Californians were involved in the leak -- Democrat Maxine Waters, she of the House Financial Services Committee, under scrutiny because of her involvement with OneUnited Bank of Massachusetts; Democrat Laura Richardson, who lost one house in Sacramento to foreclosure and has been in default on several others.

The committee chairwoman, California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, alerted her colleagues last night about the breach of protocol and warned the public that "no inference should be made" as to guilt or innocence.

Still, Republicans couldn't wait to pounce on news that the ethic probes into members of Congress -- mostly Democrats -- may be much wider than previously reported. Reminding the public that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised in 2006 to "drain the swamp," they took the news as the first volley in the 2010 elections.

"Clearly the Democrats were not serious when they said they would clean up the House of Representatives,” said New Jersey Republican Scott Garrett. “They promised the American people honesty, transparency and accountability, and yet they have failed to deliver.”

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: File photo of Congress preparing for a presidential state of the union message. Credit: Getty Images

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