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Amid PMA Probe, Rep. Visclosky Relinquishes Chairmanship

POSTED: 03:19 PM ET, 06/ 2/2009 by Sarah Fitzpatrick


Rep. Pete Visclosky (David Umberger / AP).

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) announced today that he is temporarily stepping down as chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, just days after his office confirmed being subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating the now-defunct PMA Group.

Visclosky confirmed Friday that he was subpoenaed for information and documents related to the PMA Group, a firm that has been the subject of much scrutiny since its Virginia offices were raided last November by the FBI. In a statement today, Visclosky said that he has "always abided by the law and adhered to the rules and code of ethics of the House."

"However, as a firm believer in the institution of the House of Representatives, I intend to ask Congressman Ed Pastor to temporarily handle the Fiscal Year 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations bill during committee and House consideration," he said.

The PMA Group, which was disbanded in March 2009, was founded by Paul Magliochetti, a prominent Washington lobbyist and a former aide to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). Former PMA staff members familiar with the inquiry said early on that prosecutors' initial questions focused on whether Magliocchetti used straw campaign contributors — a Florida sommelier and a golf club executive, for example — as a front to funnel illegal donations to lawmakers.

In February, The Washington Post and other media outlets reported suspicious campaign donations from Jon C. Walker, a marketing manager for the Amelia Island Golf Club, and John Pugliese, a sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel also on Amelia Island, where PMA founder Magliochetti owns a vacation home. The men were labeled as "PMA associate" or "PMA consultant" on FEC forms, yet were never registered as PMA lobbyists.

In March, Visclosky gave $18,000 to the U.S. Treasury, the same amount he received from the golf executive, the sommelier and a California technology executive who claimed not to know the Indiana lawmaker. Visclosky's legislative office and campaign committee did not explain why the $18,000 wasn't returned instead to the original donors.

Visclosky has longstanding ties to the PMA group. His former chief of staff, Rich Kaelin, was a lobbyist at the firm and PMA employees make up Visclosky's largest campaign contributors. Over the past 12 years, Visclosky's reelection campaign and his separate leadership political action committee have received $1.4 million in donations from PMA and its clients, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. As a member of the House Defense Appropriations Committee, Visclosky directed $34.4 million worth of projects to PMA clients in appropriations bills for fiscal years 2008 and 2009, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

And as the PMA investigation has heated up, Visclosky (along with his House appropriations colleagues Murtha and James P. Moran Jr.) has seen a dip in fundraising since refusing donations from companies formally represented by PMA.

While Visclosky's ties to the PMA group are gaining attention, there are several hurdles that could delay a probe into his affairs. Roll Call reports that federal investigators could face challenges in obtaining information if the investigation is focused on the earmark process. The Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause protects members of Congress from prosecution for legislative activities, whether conducted personally or by their aides.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has repeatedly called on the House ethics panel to investigate PMA and its ties to lawmakers. But House Democrats have beaten back the resolution eight times, most recently on May 12 (despite 29 Democrats voting for the measure). Further, the House ethics committee has yet to appoint a senior staffer and chief counsel, and all findings must be approved by a full committee.

By Sarah Fitzpatrick |  June 2, 2009; 3:19 PM ET In the News
Previous: Judge Orders Gitmo Docs Public; AP: Blago, Durbin Discussed Senate; A Push for FDA Data | Next: DOJ Targets Tech Giants; Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule; A Shifting Earmark Eyed

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