Lawmakers are starting to shed thousands of dollars they received from a now-defunct D.C. lobby firm under federal investigation, in what some are calling potentially the biggest congressional flap since the Jack Abramoff scandal.
Employees of the PMA Group gave millions to dozens of U.S. senators and congressmen over the past several years, federal records show, making it one of the most generous firms in recent history.
During the 2008 election cycle, the firm was the top source of cash for 14 House Democratic lawmakers, according to an analysis of campaign finance reports by the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense.
"In terms of the amount of lawmakers it could impact, this could be the next Abramoff scandal," said Keith Ashdown, the group's chief investigator. He cautioned that there is currently no evidence of any type of Abramoff-like illegalities at PMA Group. "The only thing we know so far is suspected illegal contributions."
At least two donors listed in Federal Election Commission reports as working for PMA said they had no connection to the firm, according to a Washington Post report last week.
Federal investigators are reportedly probing the PMA Group's activities for improprieties in its employees' political giving. The firm closed last week after ABC News' The Blotter broke the story that FBI agents had raided its offices in November.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said Tuesday he would return all PMA-linked cash that came from apparently phony contributors, known as "straw donors." Nelson took over $4,000 from two men listed in FEC records as PMA employees, but whom the Post discovered worked in Florida, one at a Ritz-Carlton hotel and the other at a golf club.
House Ethics Committee chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) went one better, telling Roll Call newspaper she would return all $7,000 she received from PMA 's Political Action Committee, funded by the firm's employees. She told the paper she did so "without making any comment to the veracity of the allegations against PMA Group."
PMA's biggest recipents were mum or noncommittal about what they would do with the PMA-linked money.
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who received $105,000 from PMA employees from 2001 through 2008, did not respond to requests about his plans for the money. PMA founder Paul Magliocchetti was a longtime Murtha congressional aide, and the firm was believed to have close ties to Murtha's office.
Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN) got over $140,000 from individuals claiming PMA as their employer from 2001 through 2008, including $18,000 from the Florida men identified by the Washington Post as working at the Ritz-Carlton and a golf club. A spokesman for Visclosky's re-election campaign said Visclosky was returning to those men $16,000 they gave him in the past four years, and his staff was reviewing earlier donations.
The congressman "would return any money that's determined to be illegal or inappropriate," spokesman David St. John said.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) has no plans to shed the roughly $100,000 in contributions he has received from people identified as PMA employees in FEC records, according to his spokesman. "We're following the situation closely in the media and reserving action until there's clear evidence something improper occurred," said Austin Durrer.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) said a $1,000 donation he received last June was legitimate, despite its donor being fingered by the Post as an apparently bogus PMA employee. The donor did not work for PMA, but for a defense firm with a plant in Wicker's state. The senator's office was in the process of correcting the error, a spokesman said.