Murtha defended the practice of earmarking. The money, he said, benefited his constituents.
Murtha became chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee in 1989. The same year Paul Magliocchetti, a former subcommittee staffer, left Capitol Hill to found the now-defunct PMA Group. The lobbying firm, which specialized in obtaining earmarks for defense contractors, was one Murtha's biggest sources of campaign cash.
In 2007 and 2008, Murtha and two fellow Democrats on the subcommittee directed $137 million to defense contractors who were paying PMA to get them government business. Between 1989 and 2009, Murtha collected more than $2.3 million in campaign contributions from PMA's lobbyists and corporate clients, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money.
Shortly after the 2008 election, the FBI raided PMA's offices as part of a criminal investigation. In a separate development in January 2009, FBI agents raided the offices of a defense contractor from Murtha's district — Windber-based Kuchera Defense Systems Inc. — that had received millions of dollars in earmarks sponsored by Murtha while contributing tens of thousands to his campaigns.
A year later, Kuchera was suspended from bidding on government contracts because of allegations that it paid more than $200,000 in kickbacks to another defense contractor.
Around the same time, the House ethics committee was investigating the link between PMA-related campaign contributions and earmarks, but it had not named a subcommittee to look into possible violations by individual lawmakers.
Murtha's critics recall the Abscam corruption probe, in which the FBI caught him on videotape in a 1980 sting operation turning down a $50,000 bribe offer while holding out the possibility that he might take money in the future.
"We do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested and maybe I won't," Murtha said on the tape.
Six congressmen and one senator were convicted in that case. Murtha was not charged, but the government named him as an unindicted co-conspirator and he testified against two other congressmen.
Murtha's district encompasses all or part of nine counties in southwestern Pennsylvania and embodies the region's stereotypes of coal mines, steel mills and blue-collar values.
Constituents credited Murtha with bringing jobs and health care to the region, delivering hundreds of millions of dollars for local industry, hospitals and tourism. Critics derisively nicknamed Murtha the "king of pork" and said he used his position on the defense subcommittee to win favors.
Murtha often delivered Democratic votes to Republican leaders in exchange for the funding of pet projects. He wasn't shy about such deals, once saying that "dealmaking is what Congress is all about."
In 2006, when the Democrats captured control of the House for the first time in 12 years, Rep. Nancy Pelosi endorsed Murtha to become majority leader. Pelosi, D-Calif., went on to be elected as the first female House speaker, but caucus members picked Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., as their leader.