Earmarks for Campaign Cash?

Murtha, House Defense Appropriations Panel Members Channeled $355.5 Million in Earmarks to Campaign Contributors in 2008

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has received considerable press over the years for adding so-called earmarks to defense spending bills that benefit large campaign contributors and send no-bid contracts back to his district in Pennsylvania, many of questionable value to the taxpayer. A review of campaign finance reports, however, shows that the practice of inserting earmarks on behalf of campaign contributors is far more widespread on Rep. Murtha’s appropriations subcommittee alone.

The 18 members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which Rep. Murtha chairs, inserted more than $355 million in earmarks into the 2008 defense spending bill on behalf of their campaign contributors. Those contributors, according to campaign disclosure reports, donated a total of $1.3 million to the individual members who sponsored the earmarks.

Rep. Murtha inserted a total of $166.5 million worth of earmarks in last year’s defense appropriations bill, $73.6 million of which went to some of his biggest contributors. The recipients of those earmarks donated a total of $313,150 to Rep. Murtha’s reelection campaign or his leadership PAC during the 2008 election.

“Jack Murtha is the poster boy for pay-to-play politics,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, which has asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate Mr. Murtha and two of his colleagues, Rep. James Moran (D-VA) and Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN), on the defense appropriations panel for allegedly steering in exchange for hefty campaign contributions millions of dollars worth of earmarks to a now-defunct lobbying firm staffed by former Murtha aides. “But we must end the widespread practice of what appears to be trading earmarks for campaign cash. This game distorts our nation’s spending priorities and erodes public trust in our government.”

This report examines the contributions that earmark seekers – often defense companies, in the case of this report – donated to Rep. Murtha, as well as to the rest of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and the value of the earmarks they got in return.

This look is just another example of the conflicts of interest that arise from our corrupting campaign finance system that pressures elected officials and candidates to constantly raise large sums of money, often from the special interests who want the most in return.

Questions have been raised about whether Rep. Murtha inserted earmarks in exchange for campaign contributions. Common Cause has joined others in calling on the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate. At the same time, Rep. Murtha is obviously not the only member of Congress who has inserted earmarks for companies that donated to his reelection campaign.

The real answer is to change the way America pays for its elections with the passage of the Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow candidates to swear off big money and run for office on a blend of small donations and public funds.