BY SUSAN EVANS
The region’s outspoken congressman is in the national lens again – this time CBS News television cameras – in a report Wednesday that calls him “the king of earmarks who wastes a lot of taxpayer money” and implies that the FBI is investigating.
U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, responded by waving the Constitution at the camera, saying: “What it says is the Congress of the United States appropriates the money. Got that?”
Murtha’s staff was blunt, describing the CBS report as “a sensationalized piece of garbage.”
In his 35-year career in Congress, Murtha has ascended to the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
He has been in a position to award contracts that have drawn growing companies to the Johnstown region, including Concurrent Technologies Corp. in Richland Township, which just last month received a contract worth $236 million.
The CBS report does not state anything already reported by other news organizations during the past few months. The FBI has not said that Murtha is a target of any investigation, and Murtha’s staff says, unequivocally, “We have not been contacted by any federal agency.”
“It’s unfortunate how bad the national news media has become,” Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey said in a telephone interview with The Tribune-Democrat.
“They’re more interested in running two-minute clips based on sensationalized claims and unnamed sources than they are at getting their facts straight and telling the real story,” he said.
“We have not been contacted by any federal agency,” Mazonkey reiterated.
Wednesday’s CBS report attacked budget projects earmarked by Murtha and quoted an anonymous source as saying that a Murtha-earmarked project urged employees to donate to the congressman.
Six donors linked to that project gave to Murtha’s campaign on the same day last year, CBS said.
Again, Murtha’s staff said the news report showed a lack of understanding of the political process.
“Congressman Murtha holds two major fundraisers every year around the exact same time. These people (in the CBS report) contributed during our February 2008 fundraiser, along with more than 400 other people,” Mazonkey said.
Murtha and his staff vigorously defend the projects earmarked in the federal budget, which was the point Murtha was trying to make with the Constitution in front of the camera, Mazonkey said.
“The Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to appropriate federal funds,” Mazonkey said. “Earmarks don’t increase the federal budget; they direct funds within the budget for certain community projects or programs.
“If elected members of Congress didn’t direct these funds, Washington bureaucrats would be left to decide what’s best for our communities. We think our elected representatives have a better understanding of what we need.”
“Earmarks have brought jobs, economic development and community improvements to our area. If Congressman Murtha didn’t fight for these funds, then they would be left for Washington bureaucrats to decide where to send your tax dollars. In more cases than not, your money would be sent to the big cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.”
Murtha’s staff theorizes that a former disgruntled worker at Kuchera, and perhaps at Penn State Electro Optics Center, spread false information.
For months, since the first reports of a possible investigation surfaced, Murtha has insisted that the FBI has not contacted him.