- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A retired Florida couple would appear an unlikely source to have given $83,000 in campaign donations over a five-year period to members of Congress from all over the country.

Both in their 80s, they lived in a $118,000 Daytona Beach house they didn’t own; they each voted only twice since 1992; and they seemed to lack the financial means to make the contributions.

Yet, both were listed as having given dozens of donations to lawmakers, nearly half of which went to members of the House Appropriations Committee - legislators who were especially important to their then-son-in-law, superlobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, who owned the house in which they lived.

Mr. Magliocchetti is now the focus of a federal investigation into whether he made illegal campaign contributions by reimbursing people, or “straw donors,” who made contributions in their names to his favored candidates - helping the lobbyist avoid federal limits on his personal donations.

In addition to the elderly couple, The Washington Times has identified several other campaign contributors related to or associated with Mr. Magliocchetti who also do not appear to have had the financial means to make the donations listed in their names or who gave to candidates to whom they normally would not be expected to contribute.

Mr. Magliocchetti is a one-time congressional staffer who worked with Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, on the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee in the 1980s. He built his company, the PMA Group, into one of the 10 top-grossing lobbying firms in Washington before it imploded after federal agents raided it and his home in November 2008.

The firm made more than $16.4 million in lobbying income in 2007, according to Senate records, and was the go-to lobbyist for contractors who wanted earmarks - especially from the defense appropriations subcommittee, which Mr. Murtha heads.

Earmarks are taxpayer funds that lawmakers specifically set aside for favored contractors and projects in annual spending bills. For 2008, PMA obtained $300 million in defense appropriations earmarks for its clients, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly and Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.

A review by The Times of federal campaign-disclosure records shows that Mr. Magliocchetti returned the favor to his friends in Congress by serving as a major campaign donor and fundraiser.

As a group, Mr. Magliocchetti, his family, his employees and his business associates were among the largest donors to key members of the defense subcommittee - including Mr. Murtha and Democratic Reps. James P. Moran of Virginia and Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into their coffers. All three members have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Magliocchetti gave a total of $434,154 to federal candidates and committees since he became a lobbyist in 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan group that monitors political fundraising. Since the government limits how much a person can give to federal candidates, Mr. Magliocchetti often gave the maximum in his name and got others to donate, the records show.

His family members - his wives, his two children and his in-laws - gave a total $1.2 million to federal candidates and committees. In each case, the family member’s personal finances were intertwined with or dependent on his. Lobbyists and other PMA employees gave an additional $2 million since 1989.

While it is not illegal for Mr. Magliocchetti to solicit donations for political candidates of his choice, federal investigators want to know whether he illegally reimbursed any of those who made contributions on his behalf.

That investigation has spread to Capitol Hill, where a federal grand jury has subpoenaed campaign and office records from Mr. Visclosky.

Investigators also are trying to determine whether members of Congress or their staffs engaged in a “pay to play” scheme with Mr. Magliocchetti and his firm, in which they exchanged earmarks for donations.

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