Washington Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., denied Friday that he was focus of a House ethics investigation related to a defunct lobbying firm, earmarks and campaign contributions.
The Washington Post reported Thursday night that Tiahrt and six other members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, including chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., were named in a leaked document. It outlined a probe about allegedly steering appropriations to clients of a defunct lobbying firm, The PMA Group, and in turn, receiving campaign contributions.
Tiahrt, of Goddard, said Friday he has no reason to believe he’s under investigation by the House ethics committee. He said his office complied with a request from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics about the process he uses to submit defense-related project requests to the appropriations committee.
“Projects I submit that are approved by both the appropriations committee and the full House are made available online with my name appearing next to the initiative,” Tiahrt said. “I also routinely issue press releases for these funding requests because I’m proud to fight for worthy projects that help protect our troops serving overseas and that create thousands of direct, high-quality Kansas jobs."
House Ethics Committee leaders in a statement said that its security was breached through “peer to peer file sharing software” used by a junior employee who was working from home. The employee was fired. Committee leaders said because the document was preliminary, no inferences should be made about any lawmaker mentioned in it.
The news story drew widespread attention Friday because Tiahrt is campaigning for election in 2010 to a Senate seat that’s opening up Sen. Sam Brownback is running for governor. Tiahrt’s opponent is another Kansas Congressman, Jerry Moran, R-Hays.
Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political science associate professor, said the leak itself can become a major development.
“Just the looking into it can harm somebody in a campaign,” Beatty said. “To them, it’s very important that that’s kept under wraps because of the impression of impropriety, and it can be damaging in a campaign.”
Moran’s campaign could bring up the issue in coming months as the race heats up. Even if Tiahrt is never officially investigated, a third-party could run an ad reminding voters he was linked to potential scandal, Beatty said.
Because it is a primary race, Moran also has to be careful about antagonizing Republicans if he brings it up, Beatty said.
"This is a serious issue that needs to be resolved,” Moran’s campaign manager Aaron Trost said Friday. “This matter speaks to a larger issue. Washington, D.C., needs to change the way it does business when handling taxpayer dollars.”
Beatty noted that campaign contributions from groups that benefit from federal legislation don’t necessarily mean anything unethical happened.
“Obviously, they’re looking into whether any hanky-panky occurred,” he said.
Moran earlier this year said he would donate $1,500 in contributions from PMA’s political action committee to charity when federal investigators raided the lobbying firm’s office.
Tiahrt’s campaign has said in earlier news reports that it had a strict policy of only returning campaign donations if a contributor was convicted of a crime. Tiahrt raised roughly $19,750 from PMA’s PAC and employees from 2003 through 2008, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
When PMA was in operation, two of its clients were aerospace giant Boeing Inc. and Aeroflex Inc., a Boeing supplier. Both companies have a presence in the Wichita area in Tiahrt’s district. Tiahrt said his office has “an extensive, four-phase, 15-step process for scrutinizing defense-related project requests to determine which ones have merit.”
According to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly and Taxpayers for Common Sense, Tiahrt secured $5 million in earmarks to PMA clients in 2007, and with others helped secure $2 million.