- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2011

Attorneys for one-time superlobbyist Paul Magliocchetti cite his $700,000 in charitable donations as one of the reasons he should not be sentenced to prison on Friday after he pleaded guilty to making hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions.

“From just 2005 to 2008, Mr. Magliocchetti donated over $700,000 to a myriad of worthwhile organizations, including the Girl Scouts of America, the American Heart Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Association, the Capital Area Foodbank and the Women's Help Center, to name a few,” the lawyers said in recently filed court papers.

But the donations also include hundreds of thousands of dollars to the pet charities of members of Congress, some of whom were crucial to Magliocchetti’s once-booming lobbying business best known for securing defense earmarks for clients.

Shedding light on the little-scrutinized practice of lobbyists courting members of Congress through legal charitable donations, the papers show Magliocchetti gave more than $200,000 to the favorite charities of the congressional earmarkers and other members of Congress. Magliocchetti’s donations were detailed in a ledger filed with the court under the name of his now-defunct lobbying company, the PMA Group.

Ledger entries show Magliocchetti gave a total of $52,530 in four years to the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra was a favored charity of Rep. John P. Murtha, a Democrat who lived in Johnstown, Pa., and chaired the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. Murtha obtained 16 earmarks for Magliocchetti’s clients in fiscal 2008 and six in fiscal 2009 worth a total of $54.3 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Murtha’s wife, Joyce, has been described as a major booster of the symphony, an important cultural institution in Johnstown. The congressman tried to revive the one-time dying steel town with federal earmarks and with help from defense contractors and lobbyists he aided. Several defense contractors who benefited from Murtha’s help also became symphony sponsors, according to published accounts.

Murtha, who died in February, also supported the symphony, using $14,400 in campaign funds for tickets and advertising during the same period.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group that monitors earmarks, said some of the $700,000 in charitable contributions listed in the Magliocchetti court papers “were really altruistic.”

“But some of them were investments in his business and were to curry favor with powerful lawmakers and help him get earmarks,” he said.

Another beneficiary

Magliocchetti also gave to nonprofit groups close to Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat, who helped him get defense earmarks. Mr. Dicks took over as chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee after Murtha died in February. He is now the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

An avid tennis player, Mr. Dicks was one of three directors of the Congressional Charity Tennis Classic, a nonprofit that hosts an annual tennis tournament.

Magliocchetti gave the group $49,250 through PMA over the four-year period. In addition, Magliocchetti paid $4,600 in 2008 for tickets to a fundraiser for Defenders of Wildlife, which was honoring Mr. Dicks.

Mr. Dicks obtained five earmarks in fiscal 2008 and four in fiscal 2009 for PMA’s clients worth a total of $20.9 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

George Behan, a spokesman for the congressman, said Mr. Dicks does not solicit contributions for charities.

Mr. Dicks adheres to all the ethics rules,” he said.

Magliocchetti is to be sentenced Friday by U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., for violating federal election law.

He pleaded guilty in September and admitted in court to using straw donors — friends, lobbyists and family members — to funnel $386,250 in illegal contributions to members of Congress, including key members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee who provided millions of dollars in earmarks for his lobbying clients.

Prosecutors, who called the case “one of the largest criminal schemes in U.S. history to violate federal campaign finance laws,” say Magliocchetti deserves the maximum sentence of 57 months in prison because of the “brazenness” and “scope” of his scheme to evade federal limits on individual donations and an outright ban on corporate contributions.

Magliocchetti’s attorneys are seeking home confinement, probation and a $10,000 fine, saying he is physically ill and a more lenient sentence would be more in line with other election cases.

Longtime ties

Magliocchetti, who became one of the top defense lobbyists on Capitol Hill with help from Murtha and others, practically adopted Johnstown, even though his homes were in suburban Virginia and Florida. Defense attorneys pointed out that Magliocchetti has family in western Pennsylvania. He grew up in Pittsburgh, about 60 miles from Johnstown.

The ties between Magliocchetti and Murtha go back to the 1980s, when Magliocchetti, a one-time congressional staffer, worked with Murtha on the Appropriations defense subcommittee. He built 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 or tax dollars that members of Congress set aside in appropriations bills for specific pet projects.

Magliocchetti also gave $20,000 to the Challenge Program Inc., another favorite charity of Murtha‘s, which gives $250 cash awards to high school students mainly in Murtha’s congressional district.

Magliocchetti also gave $56,050 to the Girl Scouts of Talus Rock Council, which at the time was based in Johnstown. Murtha and his wife received the council’s annual Community Service Award, and for 28 years the congressman secured speakers for the council’s annual fundraising dinner — including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, in 2005 — according to the Girl Scouts’ website.

For his part, Magliocchetti helped organize and raise funds for the council’s annual dinner. His friend Edward J. Sheehan Jr. wrote the court that the two of them helped raise more than $600,000 in net proceeds for the Girl Scouts, who previously raised $75,000 over the same number of years. He said that he also worked with Magliocchetti and his firm to raise money for the Challenge Program.

“Both of these programs grew more rapidly, and they were able to assist many more young people, because of Paul’s direct involvement,” wrote Mr. Sheehan. “And Paul never asked for anything in return.” Mr. Sheehan is president of Concurrent Technologies Corp., a Johnstown defense contractor, which was a PMA client and the beneficiary of numerous earmarks from Murtha.

Magliocchetti also gave $22,050 to the Women's Help Center, a nonprofit based in Johnstown that provides services to victims of domestic abuse and their children. In a letter to the court, Susan Shahade, executive director of the center, praised Magliocchetti’s support, saying he gave “freely and frequently of his personal time and resources.”

Beyond Johnstown

In 2006, Magliocchetti made a one-time $23,050 contribution for a table sponsorship for the annual dinner of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

When Patrick J. Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat, was a member of the Appropriations Committee, there was another draw for Magliocchetti. Murtha was one of two people selected to receive the 2006 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. The award, presented by Caroline Kennedy and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was to recognize Murtha for his November 2005 decision to reverse himself and call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Murtha’s campaign fund spent $15,000 on tickets to the dinner.

Magliocchetti also gave $9,184 in 2005 to the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation Inc., the family charity of another longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan.

Mr. Mollohan, West Virginia Democrat, lost his re-election bid last year. The foundation, which helps fund educational opportunities for West Virginia students, was named for the former congressman’s father, who also served in the House.

Magliocchetti gave $46,600 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Several members of the black caucus are on the House Appropriations Committee.

Among other charities with connections to members of Congress to which Magliocchetti gave donations was the Robert T. Matsui Foundation for Public Service, named for a deceased Democratic congressman from California whose wife, Doris, now holds that seat. Magliocchetti gave the foundation $5,000.

He also gave $1,000 to the William L. Clay Scholarship and Research Fund, founded by Rep. William L. Clay Sr., Missouri Democrat, who was succeeded by his son, William Lacy Clay Jr.

In May 2008, he spent $4,800 for tickets to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, which was honoring Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, who was chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces. In 2009, she left the House to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.