U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha gave nearly $50,000 to 19 House freshmen who abandoned a week-old pledge to toughen House ethics rules by voting against a reprimand of Murtha for reportedly violating those rules.
Despite last week’s media blitz promoting tougher ethics enforcement, a group of freshmen Congressmen failed their first practical test Tuesday night, when they refused to reprimand one of their colleagues for an apparent ethics violation.
In fact, those freshmen wouldn't even allow a debate to occur on the House floor, killing a privileged resolution before it could be considered by the full House.
On May 16, Democrat lawmakers held a news conference in Washington, DC, where more than two dozen freshmen announced a push for stronger ethics enforcement. The members followed up that event with local media, garnering widespread attention for vowing to reform Congress.
"Members of Congress must know that if they break the rules,” Ohio’s Zack Space told C-SPAN, “they will be caught and punished.”
But when Space was given the chance to punish one of his own, Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha, he refused. Murtha contributed $2,000 to Space’s campaign last fall.
Murtha was accused in a privileged resolution sponsored by U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, R-MI, of violating House ethics rules. According to Rogers, Murtha threatened him when Rogers opposed a $23 million Congressional earmark to fund a controversial project in Murtha’s district.
“I hope you don’t have any earmarks in the appropriations bills,” Murtha is reported to have said, “because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever.” Murtha has not denied the exchange.
The House Code of Official Conduct states that a Member “may not condition the inclusion of language to provide funding for a congressional earmark…on any vote cast by another Member.”
Rogers sought a reprimand of Murtha by the House for the apparent ethics violation. On an overwhelmingly party line vote, Democrats tabled the Rogers’ resolution, effectively killing it. Two Democrats, Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, and Jim Cooper, D-TN, voted against their party’s leadership.
Among those refusing to reprimand Murtha were the 23 Democrats who last week vowed tougher ethics enforcement.
“One of the messages voters sent last November was that the time had come to change the way business was being done in Washington,” Iowa’s Bruce Braley said on May 16. “The American people deserve to have the highest confidence that their Representatives are doing their jobs in a professional and ethical manner.”
Like Space, Braley voted against reprimanding Murtha. He, too, received $2,000 from Murtha last fall.
Another freshman publicly calling for tougher ethics enforcement was Connecticut’s Chris Murphy.
“Too often the ethics process has been used by Congress to protect its own,” Murphy told his hometown paper, the New Britain Herald. "People are tired of the scandalous headlines coming out of Washington, and Congress should move forward soon to clean up its act.”
Murphy, who claimed in that interview to have “organized and led…the freshman class” on ethics reform, also voted to kill the reprimand; and, like his colleagues, collected $2,000 from Murtha in 2006.
In fact, twenty-two of the twenty three freshmen who spent last week promoting tougher House ethics voted on Tuesday to kill the reprimand. One, North Carolina’s Heath Shuler, voted “present.” Shuler did not receive any funds from Murtha during his campaign.
In addition to the members already mentioned, the following freshmen who vowed tougher ethics rules, yet refused to rebuke Murtha, received the following contributions from the Pennsylvania Democrat. They are: Patrick Murphy, PA, $7,000; David Loebsack, IA, $4,500; Peter Welch, VT, $4,000; Yvette Clarke, NY, $4,000.
Additionally, Murtha contributed $2,000 each to Harry Mitchell, AZ; Jerry McNerney, CA; Ed Perlmutter, CO; Tim Mahoney, FL; Brad Ellsworth, IN; Baron Hill, IN; Tim Walz, MN; Paul Hodes, NH; Albio Sires, NJ; Kirsten Gillibrand, NY; Betty Sutton, OH; and Steven Kagen, WI.
Besides Shuler, only Stephen Cohen, TN; Kathy Castor, FL; and Phil Hare, IL, received no financial backing from Murtha.
Murtha could still face an investigation by the House ethics committee. All but one member of that committee voted “present,” should they have to investigate. One member of that committee, Michael Doyle, D-PA, voted to kill the reprimand, which would force his recusal from any investigation into the allegations against Murtha.
This is the second time in the past few weeks Murtha faced a possible ethics violation. Murtha reportedly made a similar threat against Kansas Republican Todd Tiahrt.