Friday, December 23, 2005

Jerry Lewis - Another Congressman for Sale

Representative Jerry Lewis' (CA-41) close ties to big buck lobbyists and the expanding Republican earmarking scandal are highlighted in an article appearing at the top of today's San Diego Union Tribune. Copley New Services Jerry Kammer shows the close linkage between Lewis and San Diego congressman turned lobbyist, Bill Lowery.

"From powerful positions on the House Appropriations Committee, California Rep. Jerry Lewis has greenlighted hundreds of millions of dollars in federal projects for clients of one of his closest friends, lobbyist and former state Congressman Bill Lowery.

Meanwhile, Lowery, the partners at his firm and their clients have donated 37 percent of the $1.3 million that Lewis' political action committee received in the past six years."

If former and indicted San Diego Congressman Randy Cunningham was the "Duke" of earmarking as a process to insure his benefactors receive big buck government contracts, then Lewis must certainly be the "King" of earmarking.

"Beyond their close friendship, the essential ingredient in the Lewis-Lowery relationship is earmarking, the congressional practice in which special projects, sometimes derided as "pork," are slipped quietly into the federal budget without public review. Some earmarks are added just before final votes on appropriations bills, so they receive no scrutiny or analysis.

Earmarks have more than tripled in the past seven years. In 1998, Congress approved 2,000 earmarks, worth $10.6 billion. Last year it passed 15,584 earmarks, worth $32.7 billion.

As the number of earmarks has grown, so has the number of lobbyists, some of whom specialize in appropriations lobbying. The nation's capital has nearly 35,000 registered lobbyists, more than twice as many as it had five years ago. They now outnumber the 535 members of the House and Senate 65-to-1."

Lowery's lobbying firm also represented the company of one of Brent Wilkes, Co-conspirator #1, in Cunningham's bribery case.

"Earmarking has drawn scrutiny since Cunningham pleaded guilty to taking bribes from two defense contractors – including Lowery client Brent Wilkes of Poway-based ADCS Inc. – who received earmarks with Cunningham's support.

Between 1998 and 2002, Wilkes paid Lowery's firm about $200,000 to lobby for his company's defense projects."

Lowery has another link to Cunningham. Cunningham took Lowery's congressional seat away from him in 1992 when redistricting moved Lowery from the 42nd to the 50th district. Had Lowery not been force to face Cunningham, he might still be in Congress despite his heavy involvement in the House Banking Scandal and his close ties to savings and loan robber, Don Dixon.

"Lowery was identified as one of the worst offenders in a group of lawmakers who flagrantly wrote bad checks and expected the House bank to cover them. The "Rubbergate" scandal came just two years after he nearly lost re-election because of his cozy relationship with the fast-living financier Don Dixon, who plundered a Texas savings and loan and stuck taxpayers with a $1.3 billion tab.

Before Dixon was indicted, Lowery rode on Dixon's corporate jet and hosted parties on Dixon's yacht. Dixon held a Christmas fundraiser for Lowery at Dixon's Del Mar beach home, with miniature Christmas trees floating in the pool.

When "Rubbergate" erupted, Lowery was running against freshman Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in the Republican primary for the newly created 51st District. Cunningham set out to make the race a referendum on character, touting himself as "A Congressman We Can Be Proud Of."

So, a quick recap, one of Jerry Lewis' best friends is a lobbyist who Duke Cunningham bested in a contest based on character.

Moving on.... Bill Lowery's lobbying operation has remarkably close ties to Representative Lewis' office. Staffers mover back and forth between Lowery's company and Lewis' office. Representative Lewis oversaw an "explosion" of earmarking.

"Many of the earmarks went to clients of Lowery's firm, which grew even more prosperous when Lewis' principal defense-earmarks gatekeeper, Letitia White, joined the firm in 2003. White declined to be interviewed other than to say she chose the Lowery firm from among "five excellent offers."

Lowery had worked with White when she was on Lewis' staff, treating her to occasional meals and gifts of her favorite wine, Veuve Clicquot champagne. She often received him and his clients at her office, where they discussed the clients' earmark proposals.

At the firm, White quickly acquired a client roster of two dozen defense firms for which she seeks earmarks and other special treatment. In 2004 she brought in $1.44 million in lobbying fees.

White's husband, a former tobacco industry lobbyist, had switched to defense lobbying by that time. He began lobbying for earmarks after Lewis took charge of the defense appropriations subcommittee."

And, when staffers move back from Lowery's firm to the lower pay of Lewis' staff, their wives take over their clients and work out of Lowery's offices.

"When Jeffrey Shockey, 39, left Lowery's firm in January to return to work for Lewis, he accepted a salary of just under $160,000.

Although that puts him among the best-paid congressional employees, it's a big comedown from the $1 million or so he likely was earning as a prolific "rainmaker" for Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White.

But the firm helped cushion the income drop by hiring Shockey's wife, Alexandra, as a subcontractor.

Alexandra Shockey, also a former Lewis employee, has her own lobbying venture, called Hillscape Associates. But Hillscape's address on federal disclosure forms is identical to that of the Lowery firm, where she keeps her office."

The Republican congress of corruption. 35,000 lobbyists all working to ensure that corrupt members of congress quietly and surreptitiously fill their campaign and personal coffers with mostly legal bribes for services rendered.