WASHINGTON - Rep. Norm Dicks said Friday he has been interviewed by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is looking into his relationship with a once influential lobbying firm that the Justice Department is investigating for possible criminal violations.
In an interview Friday, the Belfair Democrat said he was fully cooperating with the investigation and was confident he would be fully exonerated.
“This is unfortunate,” Dicks said. “I have done nothing wrong.”
Dicks’ comments came after The Washington Post reported that he was among seven members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee that were under scrutiny by the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House ethics committee. The Post based its story on a confidential, internal July ethics committee report that had been inadvertently posted on a computer network the public can access.
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The Post said the report offered a glimpse into the widening probe involving the activities of the PMA Group. The issue is whether the lawmakers received campaign contributions in exchange for securing congressionally mandated spending, commonly known as earmarks.
The ethics committee indicated in July that it was looking into PMA but provided no names of those who might be under scrutiny.
The July report offered the first indication that the newly created Office of Congressional Ethics, or OCE, was scrutinizing the members of Congress. OCE is an independent, nonpartisan office founded by Congress in 2008 to investigate ethics allegations made by outside groups or individuals. After investigating, it makes recommendations to the ethics committee.
The House ethics committee cannot investigate allegations from outside parties.
Dicks said he had been interviewed by OCE but has not been contacted by the ethics committee.
“We have cooperated,” he said. “I am completely convinced I will be exonerated.”
In July, Dicks acknowledged he secured $27 million in earmarks for four PMA clients over the past three years. All of them were defense firms with Navy contracts. Though all of them are headquartered outside his congressional district, all have offices in Bremerton.
At the same time, Dicks received more than $133,000 in campaign contributions from the PMA political action committee and the firm’s employees and clients, according to a CQ Moneyline Analysis of Federal Election Commission records from his last four campaigns.
Dicks said Friday that before pushing for an earmark he has the company in for a talk, performs a background check and makes sure the Pentagon has no objections.
Dicks is one of the few defense subcommittee members who was on the panel when Paul Magliocchetti, the founder of PMA, was a top aide. But Dicks said Friday that he had done nothing for Magliocchetti or his clients that violated House ethics rules.
“We never had a quid pro quo with Magliocchetti or anyone else in his firm,” Dicks said, adding that he never calls campaign contributors asking for money and PMA had never held a fundraiser for him.
“We are hopeful they (OCE) will distinguish between how we handle these things and how some others do,” said Dicks, who is in his 17th term in the House.
Dicks ranks second in seniority on the defense appropriations subcommittee. Most of the scrutiny has so far focused on the subcommittee’s chairman, Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, and another senior Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Peter Visclosky of Indiana.
In an interview in July, Dicks said he was not under investigation. He said Friday that his meeting with OCE investigators came later.
Ethics investigations are generally kept confidential. Just because the ethics committee, formally known as the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct, begins an inquiry does not mean House rules were broken.
The committee can issue private letters to members that either reprimand or exonerate their actions. It can also recommend that the House censure a member.
According to the document obtained by the Post, investigators from the OCE are scrutinizing House members who may have been “accepting contributions or other items of value from PMA’s PAC in exchange for an official act.”
In a statement issued late Thursday, the ethics committee said that at any given time it has dozens of matters involving members, staff and House officers under review, including requests for advice on such things as travel and financial disclosure.
“No inference of any misconduct can be made from the fact that a matter is simply before the committee,” the statement said.
The FBI raided PMA’s offices a year ago, seizing boxes of documents. The firm has since closed.
Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008