The Washington Post is reporting Electro-Optics Center relied on advice from a long time Murtha friend who now is an employee of the Congressman.
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009; A06
A Pennsylvania defense research center regularly consulted with two "handlers" close to Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) as it collected nearly $250 million in federal funding through the lawmaker, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and sources familiar with the funding requests. The center then channeled a significant portion of the funding to companies that were among Murtha's campaign supporters.
The two advisers included a lobbyist for PMA Group, a firm with close ties to Murtha that is the subject of a federal investigation into whether it made illegal contributions by reimbursing donors to the Pennsylvania lawmaker and other members of Congress. The Electro-Optics Center also relied on advice from a longtime Murtha friend who now works on the congressman's appropriations staff.
Federal agents are also exploring how the center obtained its funds after they received dozens of internal documents last year. It is unclear whether the records have become a central focus of the Justice Department's probe, but they open a window into a largely hidden process in which powerful lawmakers can direct funds to pet projects.
The Electro-Optics Center, created by Murtha a decade ago under the auspices of Pennsylvania State University, was envisioned as a way to spur a new high-tech industry and create jobs in economically depressed western Pennsylvania. Last year, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh received a packet of budget materials, memos and e-mails from inside the center documenting how closely its managers conferred with PMA about the best ways to get its projects funded in the federal budget, according to two sources familiar with the information.
The center was supposed to help contractors in researching laser and optics technology to improve products for the military, and center officials said contractors were supposed to benefit from some of the federal funds.
Unlike in traditional earmarks -- funding for specific projects publicly requested by members of Congress -- most of the money for the center came through a budget maneuver known as a "plus-up." The process for this kind of earmark allows lawmakers to add money to an existing program in the budget without public disclosure. The center sought $120 million in this type of money for itself and other companies in 2006 alone, according to the records.
Several of the center's partners hired PMA for lobbying. In the 2008 budget, PMA clients received $299 million in defense earmarks through Murtha and other lawmakers. PMA and its clients gave $775,000 in contributions to Murtha in the last election cycle.
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