Washington Babylon — August 21, 2008, 8:35 am

Congressman Murtha’s Racket: Pork and influence peddling or jobs and growth?

Several Pennsylvania residents wrote in about yesterday’s post on how lobbyists and defense contractors with ties to Congressman John Murtha have such extraordinary success winning earmarks out of his House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

One reader sent an email that said:

I’d just note that for all the millions flowing into the Johnstown area courtesy of Murtha, it’s not like the residents are rolling in dough; they might qualify for a factory or call-center job or something. But it’s not like Cambria County is the Silicon Valley of SW PA. On the other hand, Murtha is such a good ol’ boy and has so many people convinced that he’s bringing jobs to the area (admittedly, the employment picture there would be bleaker without his vacuum cleaner going) that he’ll never lose his seat.

The email came from a “Pittsburgh resident and employee of a high-tech company that’s sold a lot of gear and software to some of those Johnstown shops.”

Another reader, Tim, took a different view:

I’m not arguing about John Murtha’s character, but isn’t he ultimately helping his constituents by bringing employment opportunities to an economically depressed area? The government itself even eliminates some competition by setting up awards that can only go to companies operating in a depressed area. I grew up in the area of Argon’s main PA office and was hired shortly after finishing school at about the same time the facility opened. SW PA is losing people of my generation faster than any other area in the country due to the lack of employment opportunities. I would likely have left the area as well if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to work there. I can honestly say that Argon is very generous to their employees…Until there’s proof of Murtha profiting personally from these contract awards, it seems that he’s just doing his job by helping the people of his district.

For my part, I tend to agree with the first writer. I’m obviously not opposed to creating jobs in Murtha’s district, but earmarking has been completely corrupted. Awards are not based on merit, but simply on who has the best political connections.

When someone as ethically-challenged as Murtha gets involved, the process of winning earmarks is essentially reduced to legalized bribery: companies that are willing to hire the congressman’s pals as lobbyists and make big campaign donations get the most pork. Whether they are the best qualified company, whether the money is being well-spent and whether the jobs are good or not all become secondary questions.

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