updated 5/12/2009 9:36:22 PM ET 2009-05-13T01:36:22

House Democrats on Tuesday stopped a Republican plan to force a campaign finance inquiry that likely would have investigated several influential Democrats. It was the eighth time since late February that the Republican move was halted.

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One of the biggest recipients has been the chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

The vote was 215-182 to stop consideration of a GOP resolution to initiate a House ethics committee inquiry. The measure called for an investigation into campaign contributions to House lawmakers by recipients of pet project money and their lobbyists.

Democratic leaders spoke to some of their newer members privately last month, to stop them from voting for the Republican initiative. Tuesday's vote showed they made little headway.

Twenty-nine Democrats voted with the Republicans on Tuesday in an unsuccessful effort to keep the GOP initiative alive and allow the investigation to begin. The first time the resolution was considered, in late February, 17 Democrats supported it.

The ethics committee doesn't need a House resolution to start an investigation. The committee usually operates in secret in the early stages, so it could be looking at the donations. However, some of the members who could face an investigation have said they have not been contacted.

The Republican resolution focused on a lobbying firm, PMA, which was raided by the FBI last year. The company's political action committee records were carted off, along with files of some of its lobbyists.

In 2007 and 2008, Murtha, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Rep. Peter Visclosky. D-Ind., directed $137 million to defense contractors who were paying PMA to get them government business.

At the same time, the three lawmakers received huge amounts of political donations from PMA lobbyists and their clients. Murtha has collected $2.37 million from PMA's lobbyists and the companies it has represented since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money. Visclosky has collected $1.36 million; Moran, $997,348.

Visclosky heads the appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development. Moran is on Murtha's defense subcommittee.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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