- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

After calling some residents in his western Pennsylvania district “racist” and “rednecks,” Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha seemed in jeopardy of losing his job last month - until his political friends in Congress and the defense industry came to the rescue.

Soon after Mr. Murtha’s poll numbers began slipping, money started pouring into his campaign coffers from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, now the incoming White House chief of staff, and dozens of other prominent Democrats. Mr. Murtha raised more than $1 million in the two weeks leading up to his successful Nov. 4 re-election, a surprising figure even for a longtime House veteran, according to campaign finance analysts.

The last-minute cash infusion, which also included money from defense contractors and lobbyists, helped the House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman win about 58 percent of the vote to fend off his Republican challenger, retired Army Lt. Col. William Russell.

It also showed how quickly powerful members of Congress can raise huge sums of campaign cash when their “safe” seats suddenly look vulnerable.

For Mr. Murtha, that moment came last month in response to a question on the campaign trail about Barack Obama’s chances of winning Pennsylvania in the presidential race. Mr. Murtha said parts of the western half of the state were “racist,” and he later tried to apologize by saying the region was once “really redneck.”

After an uproar about the comments, polls showed Mr. Murtha losing ground in his race for an 18th term. But within days of his misstep, his campaign was flush with cash.

From Oct. 28 to Oct. 30 alone, the Murtha campaign reported raising roughly a quarter-million dollars. That was nearly half of all the money it managed to raise during a three-month span from July through October, Federal Election Commission filings show.

Tens of thousands of dollars came from employees at defense contractors and the PMA Group, a lobbying firm founded by a former staffer on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

Watchdog groups attribute Mr. Murtha’s ability to raise lots of cash so quickly to his powerful post in Congress overseeing defense spending.

“Not only do a lot of these donors owe Representative Murtha a lot, if he stays in office then he can keep their gravy train running,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.

David Williams, vice president at Washington-based Citizens Against Government Waste, said that raising more than $1 million in two weeks is “a huge amount for a congressional seat.”

Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey dismissed the criticism.

“Jack Murtha is a national leader and a tremendous asset to Pennsylvania,” he said. “We appreciate the support of thousands of people across our district and throughout the country who volunteered their time and contributed money toward our campaign.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Murtha chafed at Republican critics who portrayed him as a big pork-barrel spender, saying his earmarks brought millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to western Pennsylvania over the years.

Pete Sepp, vice president of the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union, said it’s no surprise that employees of defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, gave Mr. Murtha tens of thousands of dollars in the waning days of his campaign.

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