To date, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania has been a central congressional figure in the FBI’s investigative hairs this year: Murtha is suspected of doling out military contracts in the form of earmarks to the clients of lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, in exchange for campaign contributions to Murtha from Magliocchetti, his family, his employees and his corporate clients.
As the noose closes tighter around the necks of Paul Magliocchetti and John Murtha, you can expect the following excuse to be trotted out: “oh dear, these contributions to John Murtha were not bribes! No, no, Rep. Murtha simply has shown strong interest in issues related to defense and the space community, and we military contractors want him re-elected for that pre-existing interest. That’s the ticket!”
What would John Murtha’s legislative activity look like if this were true? To answer this question, we need to recognize two facts. First, John Murtha is not alone in receiving Magliocchetti money. Second, Magliocchetti’s clients are corporations that build weapons systems and work on other military projects. This means that we should look at John Murtha’s legislative behavior on military-related bills and compare it to the legislative behavior of other members of congress regarding those same bills. Is receipt of Magliocchetti money associated with similarity in patterns of support for military-related bills?
Possibility One: If Magliocchetti money is being doled out simply as bribery to take some particular action, then the recipients of those bribes don’t necessarily have to have any similarity in their positions on military issues in general. They’re just doing as they’re told on specific bills, then going their own way when it comes to other bills. We shouldn’t expect that other recipients of Magliocchetti money are especially similar to John Murtha in their positions on military-related bills overall.
Possibility Two: If Magliocchetti money isn’t a bribe, but really just support for the sort of member of Congress who supports the military issues Magliocchetti and his clients care about, then by gum we should expect to see some kind of similarity within the members of Congress who have received Magliocchetti money. We should expect that other recipients of Magliocchetti money have greater similarity to John Murtha in their positions on military-related bills than members of Congress who didn’t receive Magliocchetti money.
Which possibility is reflected in reality? To assess these possibilities, I’ve identified 146 bills in the House of Representatives this year that are military-related in their subject matter. Then I’ve paired up John Murtha with every other member of the House of Representatives (431 pairings, since there are 432 members of the House who are currently active). For each pair of some Representative and John Murtha, I’ve calculated a correlation to measure the extent to which John Murtha and that colleague behave the same way on each of these military-related bills. I measure correlation with Murtha because he is the supposed congressional ringleader of all this corruption, the alleged big stinky cheese. Murtha is certainly a big recipient of Magliocchetti money: $72,800 from Magliocchetti and his family members, not even counting employee or client contributions.
In particular, I study cosponsorship of these bills: the act of formally signing one’s name in support. When John Murtha cosponsors one of these bills, does his colleague also? When John Murtha refrains from cosponsorship, does his colleague also? If this happens all the time, we’d see a correlation between the two of +1.00. If, on the other hand, a colleague of Murtha’s always does the opposite of Murtha (cosponsoring bills Murtha doesn’t and failing to cosponsor bills Murtha does cosponsor), then we’d see a correlation between the two of -1.00. The actual range of correlations between John Murtha and his 431 colleagues ranges from -0.06 (a mildly oppositional relationship to Rep. Tammy Baldwin on military issues) to 0.70 (cooperative relationships at a level tied for first with Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, Rep. Thomas Petri and Rep. John Shimkus).
Just these results tell you something interesting: the person to whom the Democrat John Murtha stands most opposed on military issues is also a Democrat, and two out of the three politicians with whom John Murtha is most coordinated are Republicans. Patterns of coordination with Murtha on military-related bills are not necessarily partisan.
Among members of the House, is coordination with John Murtha on military bills highest among those who have received the most Magliocchetti money? To find out, I’ve used the FEC to gather information on the clearly coordinated campaign contributions of Paul Magliocchetti and 9 members of his family. Here’s a plot of Magliocchetti family donations to a Representative (the y-axis) against that Representative’s correlation with Murtha on military bills:
A best fit line drawn on the above this scatterplot has a positive slope, indicating that overall those members of Congress with stronger correlations with Murtha on military bills also received more money from the Magliocchetti family. But as you can see for yourself, most observations (each Representative is a blue dot) fall off the line, and a number fall very far from it. Indeed, the nine members of Congress whose pattern of support on legislation most strongly correlates with John Murtha’s received no money from the Magliocchetti family at all, and the biggest recipients of Magliocchetti cash are centered right around the mean value of correlation of behavior with John Murtha (0.23). The R-squared statistic, multiplied by 100, tells us how much of the variation in Representatives’ correlation with Murtha is explained by variation in Magliocchetti money. Magliocchetti money explains just 0.4% of the variation in correlation with Murtha. That’s measly; it could very well be random.
A multiple regression analysis to predict correlation with Murtha on military-related bills, adding Representatives’ party, gender and Progressive Action Score as control variables, fails to alter this result. Possibility Two doesn’t look so hot.