This morning, I called Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, to ask about the potential congressional reforms House Speaker-To-Be Nancy Pelosi is expected to push on Day One. But before we got to that, Sloan teed off on Pelosi for having endorsed Representative Jack Murtha, the hawk turned Iraq war critic, in his fight against Representative Steny Hoyer to be the House Democratic majority leader, the powerful number-two job in the body. “Murtha has lots of ethics issues,” Sloan exclaimed. “What the hell is she thinking? Corruption turns out to be a major issue in the campaign, and you endorse the guy with the more ethics problems?”
Sloan was referring to exit polls that noted that 42 percent of voters considered corruption and congressional scandals critical to their voting decisions. And she pointed to her outfit’s Beyond DeLay site that lists the “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress.” Murtha was not on that roster, but he garnered one of five “Dishonorable Mentions” (along with Republican Representatives Dennis Hastert, the outgoing speaker, J.D. Hayworth, who was defeated in Arizona last week, and Don Sherwood, who was accused by his mistress of choking her and who also lost his bid for reelection).
CREW’s low-down on Murtha charges that he abused his position as the senior member of the defense appropriations subcommittee to steer contracts to military firms represented by his brother, a registered lobbyist. The report also notes that Murtha routinely inserted funding earmarks into defense spending bills for contractors that funded his campaigns and hired a lobbying firm run by a former aide on the defense appropriations subcommittee.
Murtha, according to Sloan, was also instrumental in undermining the House ethics committee. In the late 1990s, he successfully pushed (with other legislators) to change the committee’s rules to prevent it from accepting ethics complaints from parties outside Congress. He also pressed Democratic leaders to name Representative Alan Mollohan of West Virginia the senior Democrat of the ethics committee. Mollohan has had his own ethics troubles–which have forced him off the ethics committee–and is a member of CREW’s Top (or Bottom) 20. (See here.) “Murtha really doesn’t like the ethics committee,” says Sloan, speculating this may be due to Murtha’s involvement in the Abscam bribery scandal of the late 1970s and early 1980s. (The ethics committee chose not to file charges against Murtha, after which the panel’s special counsel resigned in protest.) “Murtha seems like a bad choice from our perspective,” Sloan said.