WASHINGTON (CNN) – The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to force the House ethics committee to report whether or not it is investigating any misconduct by House members relating to the PMA Group, a lobbying firm that secured millions of dollars in earmarks for its clients.
The vote on a resolution offered by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was 270-134. Seventeen members voted present, including all of the members of the ethics committee. The Democratic resolution instructs the panel to report back to the full House in 45 days.
The reversal by House Democrats to address the controversy comes after repeated efforts by House Republicans to launch an investigation of PMA were blocked by Democrats. A series of news reports allege that several senior House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee received millions in campaign cash for their help steering federal projects to companies represented by the now defunct lobbying firm.
According to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, Rep Jack Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, who chairs the powerful Defense Appropriations committee, has steered over $130 million in projects to his district. PMA’s chief lobbyist Paul Magliochetti is a former Appropriations staffer with ties to Murtha. Murtha’s spokesman denies he has done anything improper.
Last week Indiana Democratic Congressman Pete Visclosky received a subpoena from federal prosecutors for information related to PMA. Visclosky said he was cooperating and insisted he didn't do anything improper, but he volunteered Tuesday to step aside from handling this year’s spending bill for the Energy and Water panel he chairs on the House Appropriations Committee.
Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, who has led the charge to force an investigation, criticized the move on Wednesday, arguing the Democratic sponsored resolution doesn't require an investigation and could effectively stall a probe by specifying that the committee has 45 days to respond.
"They seem to be punting beyond the appropriations cycle," Flake told reporters.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Republican Leader John Boehner, said, "This is a joke. It is the tiniest speck of political cover from a Democratic Leadership that has voted time after time to block a real investigation of PMA. It doesn't even require an investigation, it simply inquires whether there is one – and gives the Committee a month and half to reply. That's ridiculous. They can and should answer that question today. In the meantime, the swamp waters continue to rise, and this won't fool the American people."