“House ethics investigators have been scrutinizing the activities of more than 30 lawmakers and several aides in inquiries about issues including defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling, according to a confidential House ethics committee report prepared in July.”
The probes are apparently in various stages of investigation, and many could end up dismissed. But one major focus involves seven members of a defense appropriations subcommittee, including its chairman, Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania. The question is whether members or aides inserted budget earmarks for campaign contributions and other considerations.
In addition to the ethics probes, the Justice Department has been sniffing around Murtha and his subcommittee, which could mean criminal prosecution.
It’s impossible to know whether indictments will be or should be issued in the case. Prosecutors will go where the evidence takes them. But the earmarking practice is so fraught with temptation that corruption seems almost inevitable.
Earmarks for a project in your district — a bridge, a highway, etc. — are bad enough. But in this case we’re talking multi-million-dollar earmarks not for a project but for specific private companies. Those companies don’t have to prove their worth to the Pentagon or go through any assessment process. Murtha and his colleagues have the power to just write those appropriations into the defense bill, and a whole lobbying enterprise has naturally sprung up to “encourage” them to do so. Much of the Justice probe apparently centers around one particular lobbying company, the PMA Group, which had close ties to Murtha.
While the cases of individual members play out, Congress as an institution has to act. The American people already hold it in deep distrust and even contempt, gauging from the polls, and this news is not exactly going to help matters. At the very least, it ought to ban all earmarks to private companies, period, because it is an inherently corrupting practice.