Another Murtha comes to the Hill

Rep. Murtha's (above) nephew is now a liaison for the Marines. Rep. Murtha's (above) nephew is now a liaison for the Marines.
By David D. Kirkpatrick
New York Times / May 3, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Representative John P. Murtha, chairman of the House military spending subcommittee and a decorated former Marine, has long acted as a protective uncle to the Marine Corps.

Now the corps has named one of his nephews, Colonel Brian Murtha, as a legislative liaison to help advocate for its interests on Capitol Hill, where Representative Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, helps write the military budget. In relocating to be near the Pentagon, Colonel Murtha has moved into a unit in the same condominium building where his uncle lives in Arlington, Va.

This convergence of the Murthas is an example of Washington's special centrifugal force, which so often brings relatives together on opposite sides of the same table. It does not appear to violate any rules or ethics guidelines, though it may well raise eyebrows among legislative liaisons competing for resources on behalf of the other military services.

"I am sure that he provides a valuable service to the Marines," Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, an Army spokesman, said of Brian Murtha.

Matthew Mazonkey, a spokesman for Representative Murtha, said his nephew's role did not influence the lawmaker's official actions.

"Congressman Murtha's family has been serving our country in uniform since the Revolutionary War," Mazonkey said. "He's proud of their service."

Colonel David Lapin, a spokesman for the Marines, said only that Colonel Murtha, a helicopter pilot previously assigned to the European Command, was moved to the legislative liaison office last July.

Murtha is not the only lawmaker with relatives who have interests before the legislator's office. For example, Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee, has a son who works for a national parks advocacy group. And the committee's senior Republican, Representative Jerry Lewis of California, has a brother in the government relations office of Loma Linda University, which often benefits from the special provisions known as earmarks that he inserts into legislation.

Nor is Colonel Murtha the first member of the Murtha family to be in a position to profit from his uncle's influence. The congressman earmarked millions of federal dollars to an institution in his district, St. Vincent College, while the Rev. John F. Murtha, his cousin, was its president. He has directed millions more in earmarks to clients of a firm, KSA Consulting, where until about three years ago his younger brother, Robert, known as Kit, worked as a lobbyist.

Colonel Murtha is one of Kit Murtha's sons. Another son, also named Robert, is a former Marine with a master's degree in engineering. He previously worked for two military contractors who, seeking earmarks, hired a lobbyist with close ties to Representative Murtha.

Over the last three years, the younger Robert Murtha has operated Murtech Inc., a small contractor in Glen Burnie, Md., that runs a warehouse and offers engineering services. It has received more than $3.5 million in military contracts over the last three years, not including subcontracts through other companies. He is also a founder of Ocean Energy Systems Inc., which is seeking federal financing to support its research into the generation of power from the motion of waves.

There is no indication that he has received earmarks or otherwise benefited from Representative Murtha's position.