The plot thickens:  Visclosky to return PMA campaign contributions

U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky will turn over $18,000 in campaign cash to the U.S. Treasury after a federal investigation led to questions about the source of those donations, a spokesman said Wednesday.

That money was first thought to have arrived from donors connected to The PMA Group, a?Virginia lobbying firm raided by the FBI in November whose associates have given the most cash to Visclosky’s campaigns.

However, recent reports in the Washington Post and The Hill, a congressional daily newspaper, questioned the ties of three Visclosky donors to PMA.

“We’ve been disturbed by what we read in the paper,” David St. John, a spokesman for Visclosky’s campaign, said.

The Hill reported that Florida-based donors John Pugliese and Jon Walker are listed in federal election commission documents as employees and associates of The PMA Group and gave a combined $16,000 to Visclosky’s campaigns in the last two election cycles.

However, The Hill reports that one is a sommelier at the Ritz Carlton hotel on Amelia Island and the other is a golf marketing director at the same resort. Both were on PMA’s board of directors but had no connection to lobbying or politics.

A third donor, Marvin Hoffman of Marina del Rey, Calif., is listed as a PMA-connected donor who gave $2,000 to Visclosky, but he told the Washington Post he’s never heard of PMA or the congressman.

Federal election laws limit the amount of money individuals may contribute to candidates.

Strawman donors?  Maybe. The Federal investigation should tell.

But there’s more, a lot more, going on.  Via Hot Air,  the earmarking business is like a military operation:  Firm with Murtha Ties Got Earmarks From Nearly One-Fourth of House

More than 100 House members secured earmarks in a major spending bill for clients of a single lobbying firm — The PMA Group — known for its close ties to John P. Murtha , the congressman in charge of Pentagon appropriations.

“It shows you how good they were,” said Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “The sheer coordination of that would take an army to finish.”

PMA’s offices have been raided, and the firm closed its political action committee last week amid reports that the FBI is investigating possibly illegal campaign contributions to Murtha and other lawmakers.

No matter what the outcome of the federal investigation, PMA’s earmark success illustrates how a well-connected lobbying firm operates on Capitol Hill. And earmark accountability rules imposed by the Democrats in 2007 make it possible to see how extensively PMA worked the Hill for its clients.

In the spending bill managed by Murtha, the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriation, 104 House members got earmarks for projects sought by PMA clients, according to Congressional Quarterly’s analysis of a database constructed by Ashdown’s group.

Those House members, plus a handful of senators, combined to route nearly $300 million in public money to clients of PMA through that one law (PL 110-116).

And when the lawmakers were in need — as they all are to finance their campaigns — PMA came through for them.

According to CQ MoneyLine, the same House members who took responsibility for PMA’s earmarks in that spending bill have, since 2001, accepted a cumulative $1,815,138 in campaign contributions from PMA’s political action committee and employees of the firm.

Will this be in the same league as the Abramoff scandal?  Or worse? Time will tell.