Did lobbyists generate bogus contributions for Murtha?

That’s the question that federal investigators want answered, at least according to the New York Times, but they miss an important point.  The Department of Justice has conducted a series of raids on firms connected to Rep. John Murtha, and the Times reports that they’re looking at a lobbying group for connections to illegal contributions.  And it might be more than just Murtha:

Federal prosecutors are looking into the possibility that a prominent lobbyist may have funneled bogus campaign contributions to his mentor, Representative John P. Murtha, as well as other lawmakers, two people familiar with the investigator’s questions said Tuesday.

Employees of the PMA Group, the firm founded by the lobbyist, Paul Magliocchetti, have given a total of more than $1 million to political campaigns over the last three election cycles, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

In the first half of 2007, the PMA Group and its clients contributed more than $500,000 to three congressmen, Mr. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who is chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, and his close allies on the panel, Representative James P. Moran of Virginia and Representative Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana.

The lawmakers, meanwhile, earmarked more than $100 million in defense spending for PMA clients in the appropriations bills for 2008, according to a study by Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks earmarks.

Moran has a well-established reputation as a porker.  Visclosky is less well-known, but he ranked sixth in House pork in 2007 (behind Murtha, Pelosi, Hoyer, and Republicans Bill Young and Jerry Lewis).  If the feds have started to take a close look at Murtha, it would make some sense that they would look at other pork allies, especially those with ties to PMA.  Both Moran and Visclosky have former aides in high positions at PMA, alongside Magliochetti, who used to work for Murtha.

The Times suggests, though, that the raids have targeted PMA rather than the politicians.  However, the two raids on Kuchera wouldn’t have anything to do with PMA.  Kuchera was not a PMA client, but was a repeat recipient of Murtha’s pork.  That suggests that PMA is not the primary target of the investigation, or at least not the only primary target. The Washington Post notes this difference, but not its significance:

Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries, based in Murtha’s district and led by Bill and Ron Kuchera, won $50 million in Pentagon contracts from 2001 to 2008, and have long-term contracts that could be worth more than $100 million over a decade. Kuchera’s lobbying firm is Ervin Technical Associates, whose chairman is longtime Murtha friend and former Republican congressman Joseph M. McDade.

If Kuchera got raided, it wouldn’t have anything to do with PMA — and that strongly suggests that PMA is just a piece of a bigger puzzle the feds are solving.  The only connection between Kuchera and PMA is John Murtha.

Addendum: Interestingly, a group of agents at PMA announced their resignations yesterday to form a new lobbying company.  I question the timing …