Democrats rode to power last week with promises of “honest leadership and open government.” It is therefore disconcerting to learn that Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has recommended Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) to be the new House majority leader. Her decision to support Murtha has raised concerns that the era of “Duke” Cunningham ethics will continue in a Democratic Congress.

Although best known for his vocal opposition to the American presence in Iraq, Murtha has also cemented a position as one of the most aggressive backdoor deal-peddlers on the Hill, (in)famous for his ability to deliver Congressional Democrats' votes in exchange for lucrative earmarks .

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been closely following Murtha's troubling track record. The organization even granted Murtha a dishonorable mention on its list of the twenty most corrupt Members of Congress. His place on the list is certainly not unwarranted:

  • Murtha helped steer over $95 million to the PMA Group, a defense lobbying firm that was founded by his former senior staffer and whose clients rank among his top contributors.
  • In a 2004 defense appropriations bill, Murtha earmarked over $4 million for AEPTEC Microsystems, a wireless networking company that has employed the services of Murtha's brother and a former staffer at KSA Consulting .
  • Murtha helped secure a spot for Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV) as the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee. Mollohan, a shoo-in candidate for CREW's top-twenty list, had to resign from the Committee in April 2006 amid accusations that he hid assets on his financial disclosure forms and designated millions in earmarks for businesses run by his friends and business associates.

Murtha claims that Congressional ethics will be strengthened under his leadership. From today's Washington Post article: “Wait until you see the ethics package we support and we pass,” he said. “No meals, no trips, nothing. I support it 100 percent.”

We certainly hope that the new Democratic leadership delivers on its promise. But as Murtha says, we'll have to just wait and see.