PMA Group: A Look Inside the Earmark Game
“Looking at Earmarks: Legislators for Sale?” examined some legislator’s records with respect to earmarks, provisions inserted into spending bills that target specific firms and products. That article looked at the range of earmarks given out, and corresponding campaign contributions from the recipients of a politician’s earmarks. FBI ABSCAM investigation target John Murtha [D-PA], James Moran [D-NJ], and Pete Viclosky [D-IN] all figured prominently, but the report showed a wide range of behaviors by politicians in both parties.
In March 2009, Congressional Quarterly covered the story of former Murtha aide Paul Magliocchetti, whose PMA Group lobbying firm is at the center of an FBI probe following an FBI search of its suburban Virginia office in late 2008. The firm disbanded at the end of March 2009, but that hasn’t stopped the investigations.
Including a more recent investigation into defective combat helmets…
PMA: Earmarks and Contributions
While charging nearly $107 million in lobbying fees, and growing from a start-up to the 11th largest lobbying firm in the USA at one point, the firm reportedly dispensed more than $1.5 million in political contributions via Magliochetti, 9 of his close relatives, and a Political Action Committee he controlled. Those contributions were made to key House Appropriations committee members John Murtha [D-PA], James Moran [D-VA], Peter J. Visclosky [D-IN], and to John Sununu [then R-NH]. Contributions were also made to Mike Doyle [D-PA], Tim Holden [D-PA], Michael Capuano [D-MA], Sen. Bill Nelson [D-FL], and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The firm has also been cited as a key donor to Rep. Norm Dicks [D-WA] and Sen. Patty Murray [D-WA].
In 2007 alone, PMA clients received some $100 billion in government contracts, an amount that is about 20% of all federal contracts that year. PMA clients also got nearly $300 million in earmarks in a the House Defense Appropriations panel’s spending bill for FY 2008.
The Gentex Investigation
In May 2009, revelations of defective military equipment from a PMA client intensified both scrutiny of PMA’s past actions, and of the client itself.
Gentex Corp. in Carbondale, PA has been supplying the US military with a variety of products since the 1930s, when it was called General Textile Mills; they currently make a variety of soldier and flight crew helmets for the US armed forces, and cooperate with manufacturers like Sikorsky to provide helmets for new platforms.
In January 2009, Gentex told the Army that one of its subcontractors, A.J. Hughes Screw Products of Rochester, NY, had used a non-specified finish designed to protect the helmet’s screws that attach the chinstrap et. al. The Army promptly tested the helmets, and the news wasn’t good. The substitute corrosion protection coating doesn’t hold up as well in tough conditions, and this could create a weak spot in the helmet. The result was a recall of 34,218 Advanced Combat Helmets, and an ongoing investugation.
Gentex alleges that A.J. Hughes falsified certificates of compliance for the steel screws. Regardless, as the prime contractor, Gentex will absorb the costs and effort required to change out the faulty screws.
Gentex hired the PMA Group in 1999, and reportedly paid the lobbying form close to $2 million during their relationship. In the wake of PMA’s dissolution, the firm has changed, but not the relationships. Gentex is represented by the Federal Business Group, a consultancy started by 6 former PMA lobbyists.
Gentex Corp. is located in Rep. Chris Carney’s [D-PA-10] district, and Carney supplied the group with a $4.7 million earmark in the 2008 budget. According to data provided by Center for Responsive Politics, The PMA Group and its lobbyists were the top contributors to Carney’s $2.3 million 2008 re-election campaign, pitching in $41,500. Gentex Corp. was 5th, at $12,500.
In fairness, an Earmark Watch 2008 search showed a pair of $2 million earmarks to Gentex from Rep. Hastert [R-IL] and Rep. Dreier [R-CA] for R&D related to flight helmets and oxygen masks. Gentex also appears to have been proactive and above-board in bringing the ACH problem to the Army’s attention, and will own the fix.