Media’s Love Affair With Murtha Ignores His Pork-Filled Past

Since his surprise call on Thursday to withdraw American troops from Iraq, the media have been speaking nothing but high praise for Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn). Yet, the press haven’t always been so fond of the congressman, and their recent love affair with Mr. Murtha is totally ignoring their past depictions of him as being “a leading pork-barrel politician” who is often in the middle of a great deal of questionable spending related to defense contracts.

In fact, many of the headlines Murtha made in the ’90s were specifically connected to projects that he pushed through the House that largely benefited his home district in the state of Pennsylvania. His “earmarking” was so legendary that Roll Call’s Mary Jacoby stated in a February 24, 1994 article that it might have prevented him from becoming the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations:

“Rep. John Murtha's (D-Pa) well-known ability to channel federal dollars to his southwestern Pennsylvania district has made him a hero at home but, ironically, is one factor keeping him out of the quiet race to succeed ailing Appropriations Chairman Bill Natcher (D-Ky), according to House sources.

“Of the approximately $4 billion in ‘directed spending’ contained in the $240 billion fiscal 1994 defense appropriations bill, more than $110 million is earmarked for projects in Murtha's district.

“As a result, Members and top aides say, there is a feeling that an institution already suffering a public relations problem can not afford an Appropriations chairman portrayed by the press - fairly or not - as a leading pork-barrel politician.”

Jacoby continued: “As chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, Murtha last year helped produce a $240 billion spending bill that included $113 million for projects in his hometown of Johnstown.”

Finally from Jacoby:

“A US News and World Report article this month detailed Murtha's earmarking of funds for a college headed by his cousin. But Murtha's handiwork is, of course, more extensive.

“The fiscal 1994 defense appropriations conference report, for example, contains $103 million in projects directly benefiting a non-profit research company in Murtha's hometown of Johnstown, Pa.

“That company, Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC), is a subsidiary of the University of Pittsburgh Trust and operates three technology centers and a computer project for the Defense Department.

“Those CTC earmarks include: $30 million for the National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence, $40 million for the National Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Technology, $10 million for the National Applied Software Engineering Center, and $23 million for the Computer-Aided Acquisition and Logistics Support (CALS) Shared Resource Center (SRC).”

A few months later, as a result of all this earmarking, a fellow Democrat in the House, George Brown (D-Cal), threatened Murtha with a possible subpoena to compel him to release detailed information surrounding his committee’s activities. Roll Call’s Mary Jacoby reported on April 21, 1994:

“Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash) yesterday intervened in a feud between Reps. George Brown (D-Calif) and John Murtha (D-Pa) over Defense Department release of documents detailing Congressional earmarks, saying he will try to resolve the issue in Brown's favor before the dispute escalates.

“Brown, chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, is on a self-described "crusade" against so-called academic earmarks. Those earmarks direct federal money to specific universities or other institutions for civilian research, bypassing the normal competitive peer review process.

“Murtha, as chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, plays a major role in establishing the earmarks Brown opposes by allowing defense research and development accounts to fund civilian projects.”

States News Service reported on May 10, 1994:

“Attempts by several powerful Pennsylvania congressmen to block the release of details of how billions of dollars worth of earmarked projects are spent, have ended in failure.

“Overruling the objections of Reps. Robert S. Walker, R-16; John Murtha, D-12, and Joseph McDade, R-10, House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., has asked the Department of Defense to release documents on military-funded projects that benefit specific interests or congressional districts.”

Yet, 1994 wasn’t the only time that Murtha was accused of pork-barrel spending. The Washington Post published the following on August 12, 1989:

“The infighting over Maxi Cube represents a variation on the usual ‘pork barrel’ politics in which well-placed legislators reward home states and congressional districts with federal projects. The fiscal 1990 bill that passed the House last week included many such examples, from mine sweepers for Oregon to $ 10 million for Army mobile field kitchens, an addition that may benefit a small business in Murtha's district.”

More recently, the Washington Post published this on August 15, 1998:

“At a time when the Pentagon is lamenting a lack of money for key programs, the annual defense appropriations bill headed toward passage this fall contains an estimated $ 4 billion in projects the military never asked for -- programs added on by members of Congress seeking to steer military spending to their home districts.”

Much of this article focused on Murtha’s activities:

“In the House version of the fiscal 1999 defense appropriations bill, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) has inserted $ 25 million in funding for DRS Laurel Technologies in Johnstown, his hometown. He inserted another $ 25 million or so in classified funds for a Johnstown drug intelligence center and millions more for a Johnstown research group studying ‘environmental excellence’ and other issues.

“Murtha's earmarks are part of the fine print of the $ 252 billion defense appropriations bill and its accompanying committee reports, which detail the spending.”

The Post suggested that Murtha’s earmarks have been largely responsible for the success of Johnstown, Pennsylvania’s DRS Laurel Technologies:

“In six years, stoked by Murtha's clout as the ranking Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee, DRS Laurel's annual revenue has ballooned from $ 3 million to $ 70 million and its work force has grown from 45 to 260. Jack Donnelly, the president of DRS Laurel Technologies, credits Murtha ‘100 percent for opening the door’ to lucrative Pentagon business.”

One of the key conclusions of this 1,590 word front-page story:

“Like some of his colleagues, Murtha demonstrates his effectiveness in press releases touting new money for local enterprises. And the publicity helps come election time. A power in military spending, Murtha garners his largest chunk of campaign donations from the defense industry, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.”

In the past several months, there has been a lot of media focus on the pork and earmarks associated with the recently signed highway bill. In fact, a Google-search of the phrase “2005 highway bill pork” yielded more than a million results. This same media seemed to be concerned with such activities by Congressman Murtha in the ’90s. For some reason, in the past few days, this concern has totally evaporated.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.