Visclosky Steps Aside Amid Ethics Investigation [UPDATED]

Update: Since I posted on this earlier, Roll Call reports that Visclosky’s Chief of Staff has resigned his post. Does he know something about the pave and possible outcome of the DoJ investigation?

Chuck Brimmer, chief of staff to Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), has resigned, leaving the lawmaker without a longtime senior aide as he confronts a federal investigation into his ties to the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group.

Visclosky spokesman Jacob Ritvo confirmed Brimmer “has retired,” citing “respect for the process” in declining to comment further.

Visclosky on Friday announced that some staffers — and his Congressional and campaign offices — had been subpoenaed as part of a federal grand jury probe of PMA, a lobbying shop with close ties to the Indiana Democrat. It is not yet clear which aides were served.

Brimmer has worked for Visclosky on and off since at least 2000, according to salary figures posted on LegiStorm, a Web site that tracks Congressional information. While on Visclosky’s payroll, Brimmer mostly split his time between the lawmaker’s personal office and the Appropriations Committee.

Up until now it seemed that the investigation into the PMA Group would ultimately hurt John Murtha more than anyone else. Now however, Congressman Pete Visclosky (D-IN) has stepped aside from his position of power, after he was the subject of a subpoena:

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), who announced last week that his office had been subpoenaed as part of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation in the PMA Group, will temporarily relinquish control over a powerful appropriations committee while he’s under investigation.

Viscclosky, in a statement Tuesday afternoon, said he will let Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) assume control of the energy and water appropriations bill as it makes it’s way through the House. Visclosky is chairman of that subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, controlling more than $30 billion in sewer, water, and infrastructure projects, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers budget…

The Visclosky subpoena seeks documents from his office related to PMA, as well as his reelection campaign, but at this point does not appear that he has been asked to testify before a grand jury.

Several Visclosky aides were also subpoenaed, although details on which aides received this subpoenas has not been publicly available yet.

Visclosky had extensive dealings with PMA, including receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from PMA, its employees and clients while at the same time steering tens of millions of dollars in spending earmarks to the PMA clients. And Viscosky’s former chief of staff, Rich Kaelin, went to work for PMA.

Visclosky has a lot of questions to answer. While John Murtha has gotten all the headlines, Visclosky should explain why he’s been securing millions in earmarks for former staffers and campaign donors. The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call laid out the case against him months ago:

  • Visclosky secured $7 million in earmarks for an Indiana technology center which, 5 of whose charter tenants were PMA clients. In 2007, Visclosy got $13 million in federal money for those clients.
  • PMA hired Visclosky’s former Chief of Staff in 2004, and its clients subsequently doubled their donations to Visclosky – including half the money raised by his leadership PAC.
  • Visclosky clients earned 14 of the 28 earmarks he inserted into the Defense spending bill in 2007.
  • In the first half of that year, PMA and its clients contributed 29% of the total money collected by the Congressman’s PAC.
  • Once the technology center was filled – generally with tenants who received money from Visclosky and donated to him – the Congressman secured more than $2 million to expand the center.

Roll Call summarized the growth of Visclosky’s PAC after he became involved with PMA:

As the PMA clients settled into the technology center in Merrillville, Visclosky was ramping up his fundraising activity, largely through the leadership PAC he formed in 2003.

After the PAC launched in April of that year, the first 23 checks it received — a total of $44,250 over the course of six weeks — came courtesy of the PMA Group and its clients, including a $5,000 personal contribution from Paul Magliocchetti, the former Murtha staffer who founded the firm in 1989.

By the end of that first cycle, the firm and its clients had raised $98,250 to get the PAC up and running — a haul that amounted to 57 percent of its take during that period.

In the years since, PMA and its clients have remained the top source of funds for Visclosky, with most of their donations clustered in March, April and May — high season for House appropriators to draft spending bills.

Will Murtha and Visclosky go down together? Stay tuned.