"Defense center consulted with Murtha advisers, sources say; Pa. lawmaker steered $250m in federal funds" by Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post | March 17, 2009
WASHINGTON - A Pennsylvania defense research center regularly consulted with two "handlers" close to US Representative John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, as it collected nearly $250 million in federal funding through the lawmaker, according to documents obtained by The
The two advisers included a lobbyist for PMA, a firm with close ties to Murtha that is under federal investigation for allegedly making illegal contributions by reimbursing donors to the Pennsylvania lawmaker and other members of Congress. The center also relied on advice from a longtime Murtha friend who now works on the congressman's staff.
The Electro-Optics Center, created by Murtha a decade ago under the auspices of Pennsylvania State University, was envisioned as a way to spur new high-tech industry and create jobs in economically depressed western Pennsylvania. Last year, the US attorney in Pittsburgh received 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.
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. A PMA lobbyist and a close associate of Murtha's helped make many key decisions about which research and contractors would get the federal money flowing to the center, according to the documents.
Typically, center director Karl Harris worked with the lobbyist to prepare funding wish lists, which were described in some of the records as "requests for Mr. Murtha to carry." The requests were then sent to the congressman's staff, according to the records. The lists offered detailed specifications on how much, and where in the budget, money should be added for projects desired by the center and the contractors.
According to center records and two sources, Harris consulted regularly on the center's overall funding requests with the two men he jokingly referred to in the office as his "handlers": the PMA lobbyist, Daniel Cunningham, and Murtha friend Charlie T. Horner. Harris's staff referred questions to Penn State. Edward Liszka, the university's head of defense-related research, said the university was very involved in reviewing the center's research and doubts that a PMA lobbyist played any significant role.