When software firm MobilVox wanted to break into the lucrative world of defense contracting, it pursued an unmistakable strategy: It expanded operations from its Northern Virginia base in Rep. James P. Moran's congressional district to the southwestern Pennsylvania district of Rep. John P. Murtha.
Working with two of the most powerful members of a House subcommittee that controls Pentagon spending, the company also hired lobbying firms that employed former top aides of both the Democratic lawmakers and Mr. Murtha's brother. Company executives and their lobbyists donated thousands of dollars to the two congressmen.
Soon, money flowed the other way.
Between 2003 and 2009, Mr. Murtha and Mr. Moran helped deliver $12 million to MobilVox in earmarks — money that is set aside by lawmakers for pet projects in the government's annual spending bills. The latest House defense spending bill introduced and pushed through by Mr. Murtha includes an additional $2 million earmark for MobilVox requested by Mr. Moran. The bill is currently pending in conference committee.
Ethics watchdogs deride as a "pay-to-play" system — one that became infamous during Republican years and continues to operate under a Democratic leadership that had promised to change a "culture of corruption" in Washington.
Mr. Murtha, chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, is under siege as multiple grand juries investigate defense contractors close to him. The contractors built their businesses on Murtha earmarks at the same time they donated to him, hired lobbying companies that employed his former aides, associates and brother, and opened offices in his home district.
MobilVox has received or shared in nine earmarks sponsored by the two lawmakers since 2003 totaling $12.35 million, according to records and interviews.
During that same period, MobilVox officers and employees donated $39,000 to Mr. Murtha and his various political committees and $21,000 to Mr. Moran
Mr. Magliocchetti was turning PMA into one of the 10 top-grossing lobbying firms on Capitol Hill, based in large part on its ability to get defense earmarks from Mr. Murtha and his colleagues on the subcommittee. The firm's Web site bragged that "no one understands the inner workings of our nation's capital better than the PMA Group."
Records show Mr. Moran has continued to secure earmarks for $800,000 in 2008 and $1.2 million in 2009. For 2010, he requested $2 million for the project in the defense appropriations bill, which was approved by the full House on July 30.
Overall, PMA employees have been Mr. Moran's biggest career donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.