Washington Post: Ethics panel clears 7 on earmarks
The House ethics committee ruled Friday that seven lawmakers who steered hundreds of millions of dollars in largely no-bid contracts to clients of a lobbying firm had not violated any rules or laws by also collecting large campaign donations from those contractors.
In a 305-page report, the ethics committee declared that lawmakers are free to raise campaign money from the very companies they are benefiting so long as the deciding factors in granting those "earmarks" are "criteria independent" of the contributions. The report served as a blunt rejection of ethics watchdogs and a different group of congressional investigators, who have contended that in some instances the connection between donations and earmarks was so close that it had to be inappropriate.
The lawmakers -- Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) and C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) -- claimed vindication.
The late John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who until his death earlier this month chaired the defense appropriations subcommittee, was also cleared. The other six lawmakers served on Murtha's panel.
In fiscal 2008 alone, the seven lawmakers sponsored $112 million worth of earmarks for clients of the PMA Group while accepting more than $350,000 in contributions from the firm's lobbyists and its clients, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.
The final word on this practice may come from the Justice Department.