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Time to hit the road, Jack


May 13, 2009
Congressman John (Jack) Murtha needs to go. There's probably scores of elected officials in the same boat, and if that's the case, we need to pull the plug and let the whole mess sink.

Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat, has been in office since 1974 and often has been considered one of the most influential "wheeler-dealers" in Congress. Through the years, there have been several issues important to Democrats that Murtha has supported, including stem cell research and pulling our troops out of Iraq. He also opposed President George W. Bush's Social Security privatization plan and is strongly pro-labor.

But like many others on Capitol Hill, Murtha has become self-serving, making deals that benefit family members, friends and those whose campaign donations help keep him in office year after year.

The Marine Corps has appointed one of Murtha's nephews, Col. Brian Murtha, to an office "charged with advocating for its interests" — in other words, lobbying — on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Murtha helps write the military budget. The nephew also moved into the same condominium complex where his influential uncle lives.

Another nephew, Robert Murtha, the son of Murtha's brother, Robert (Kit) Murtha, previously worked for two military contractors who, seeking earmarks, hired a lobbyist with close ties to Rep. Murtha. Over the last three years, the younger Robert Murtha has operated Murtech Inc., a contract company in Maryland that runs a warehouse and offers engineering services. It has received millions of dollars in military contracts, not including subcontracts through other companies.

But, according to Washington Post reporters, on several days of visits to the company headquarters, the blinds were drawn tight and there were few signs of life. There were few cars in the parking lot and no trucks arrived at the 10 loading bays at the back of the building.

Robert Murtha said he is not at liberty to discuss in detail what his company actually does, but for four years it has subsisted on defense contracts, according to records and interviews. Most of those contracts were no-bid contracts.

Kit Murtha built a longtime lobbying practice around clients seeking defense funds through the Appropriations Committee and became one of the top members of KSA, a lobbying firm whose contractor clients often received multi-million-dollar earmarks directed through the committee chairman, who now happens to be Rep. Murtha.

Over the years, according to the Post, Rep. Murtha has proudly claimed credit for using his Appropriations Committee seat to steer hundreds of millions in Pentagon work to companies in his district, many of them fledgling enterprises run by campaign contributors.

And let's not forget the airport — the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, or JST for short.

This poor excuse for an airport has been eating $150 million in taxpayer money in the past decade, all to serve only 20 passengers a day. If fact, according to many, the airport is so expensive that the government has to subsidize the airlines $100 for every passenger flying in and out of JST. Yes, you read that right, despite the $150 million the place has already received, the taxpayers still need to pay more just to keep it open. The airport is not so much an airport as it is a monument to honor the man it's named for — Murtha.

The airport also recently was awarded $800,000 in federal money to repave its alternate runway, just in case it ever gets more air traffic. In 2006, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington listed Murtha as one of five members to watch in its Second Annual Most Corrupt Members of Congress Report.

In 2008, Esquire Magazine named him one of the 10 worst members of Congress because of his opposition to ethics reform and the $100 million a year he brings in earmarks to his district.

In 2009, CQ Politics reported that Murtha was one of 104 U.S. representatives to earmark funds in the 2008 defense appropriations spending bill for a lobbying group that had contributed to his past election campaigns.

The list goes on and on. But one thing is for sure, the people who voted for Murtha, those who keep him in office year after year, benefit from his corrupt practices, which, in turn, buys him more support.

There are many who have been just as corrupt — on both sides of the aisle. Republican Duke Cunningham of California, Republican Tom DeLay of Texas, Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana — all of whom are now out of office. But there's still rampant corruption, payoffs and wheeling and dealing in Washington — all involving people we voted for and trusted to be honest in their representation of their districts.

Maybe term limits is the only way to diminish the way business is conducted in Washington. But we're the ones who must demand them. Let's face it, these guys are not capable of monitoring themselves, and a bill to bring about term limits would fall way behind a bill to help a useless airport.

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Barbara Shaw
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