A case of "cyberhacking" led to the unofficial release Friday of the names of more than two dozen House members in connection with an ethics inquiry into defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling.
The disclosure shows that the secret ethics review is wider than originally believed. Among the names listed was Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Goddard Republican and U.S. Senate candidate.
Tiahrt — a member of a powerful subcommittee that controls Pentagon spending — was among seven subcommittee members whose names were disclosed. All were being looked at in connection with their work obtaining earmarks for clients of an influential lobbying firm known as the PMA Group.
The review is a procedural step and does not indicate that any member is suspected of wrongdoing.
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"Although it is unfair to be the victim of a leaked story, I am completely comfortable with discussing how I operate on the committee and am completely comfortable with oversight of our process," Tiahrt said in response to the disclosure.
He acknowledged that the Office of Congressional Ethics had asked him "about the process followed in our office for submitting defense-related project requests to the Appropriations Committee."
Tiahrt said he and his staff had complied with the request and "are more than willing to discuss our process further if there are additional questions."
The now-defunct PMA Group, whose offices the FBI raided late last year, allegedly was part of a pay-for-play operation in which the firm and its clients benefited from billions of dollars in earmarks in exchange for campaign donations. No one connected with the firm has been charged with a crime.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is chaired by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who has a reputation for landing tens of millions of dollars in earmarks for his district. He has long been known to be the subject of two House Ethics Committee inquiries, but the leaked documents make clear that about half of the subcommittee's members are being examined.
Online security breach
The Washington Post reported the existence of the inquiry Thursday after the breach of congressional security was made through peer-to-peer file-sharing software used by a junior employee who was working from home. The employee responsible was fired.
House ethics investigations typically include two steps. The first is a check by a committee known as the Office of Congressional Ethics to see whether an investigation is warranted. The names released Friday were included in a July report from the panel.
If a full-scale probe is considered necessary, the second step involves an investigation under the auspices of the House Ethics Committee. The panel usually makes a public announcement about its activities only when it begins an investigation of potential rule-breaking.
That hasn't happened in Tiahrt's case.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the Ethics Committee chairwoman, went to the House floor to announce that the confidential weekly memo had leaked out.
"No inference to any misconduct can be made from the fact that a matter is simply before the committee," said Lofgren, D-Calif.
Besides Murtha, subcommittee members who already had been identified in connection with the ethics probe were Democratic Reps. Peter Visclosky of Indiana and James Moran of Virginia.
In addition to Tiahrt, new names that came to light were Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio; and Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla.
No other lawmakers from Kansas were listed.
Many linked to PMA
CQPolitics compiled a list of 54 Democrats and 50 Republicans who had secured earmarks for PMA Group clients in the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations law, which was enacted in 2007.
The chart showed that Tiahrt had secured $7 million in earmarks working either alone or with others. He had received $21,250 in campaign donations from the PMA Group's political action committee or its employees between 2001 and 2008.
Some of Tiahrt's earmarks were for Boeing's Wichita operation.
The Ethics Committee also announced Friday that it was investigating two California Democrats — Reps. Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson. Waters was under scrutiny for whether she used her influence to help a bank in which her husband owned stock and whether the couple benefited as a result.
In a separate probe, the committee is looking into whether Richardson failed to reveal required information on her financial disclosure forms and received special treatment from a lender.
Political analysts said they expect the latest disclosures could hurt Tiahrt's Senate campaign. He already trails in polls to his GOP primary rival, fellow Congressman Jerry Moran of Hays. Moran also has outraised Tiahrt in campaign donations.
"It takes his campaign off its tracks for a while," said Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty.
Moran's campaign issued a statement from campaign manager Aaron Trost, saying: "This is a serious issue that needs to be resolved. This matter speaks to a larger issue: Washington D.C. needs to change the way it does business when handling taxpayer dollars."