Belmont Club


The Washington Post describes how a research center with ties to academia is being investigated for using two lobbyists close to John Murtha to spread around projects worth up to $250 million. The way it worked was that the center used the lobbyists to acquire funding through an unmonitored process called “plus-up” — a loophole through which money could be added to an existing program without disclosure. Then the center would turn around and channel funding to companies which were Murtha’s contributors.

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.

If the allegations are true, then they characterize a money recycling machine which took public funds from Congress, passed them through a research center, but with implicit instructions to farm them out to companies which in turn had arrangements to make political donations to Murtha. The Washington Post says, “they open a window into a largely hidden process in which powerful lawmakers can direct funds to pet projects”. The Washington Post may have added: and to themselves.

The appropriations process, like certain dark corners of the financial system, are huge machines for moving money around. The amounts they handle through a maze of complicated levers, belts, cams, cutouts and legalese are staggeringly vast. They are managed, in political lore, according to one of two systems. The process of putting one puzzle palace in charge of the other is called capitalism. The opposite is called socialism. Periodically the party espousing one displaces the other in Washington. But the two systems are so interconnected with revolving doors and tunnels that that distinctions between them may seem artificial and sometimes arbitrary. About all that can be safely said is that there is all too often a system of insiders for whose benefit things operate; and on the other hand there is a vast crowd of marks, chumps and taxpayers who get shown the guided tour. At the end of the tour all the chumps get a commemorative card which says, “thank you for joining us.” On the other side, printed in invisible ink, is the real message: all your base are belong to us.