Thursday, January 19, 2006

Jerry Lewis - Retirement Looms

USA Today has the goods on Representative Jerry Lewis (CA-41). This may be the straw that breaks Jerry's back and sends the 71 year old into retirement, not to mention jail.

Lewis is up to his neck in the Cunningham/Wilkes scandal. The San Diego Union Tribune has questioned his links to lobbyist, Bill Lowery, a guy who seems to be a perpetual rain maker for his clients and Lewis. Of course then there is the CREW complaint. But, this pay-for-play special is so eggregious that it puts his other activities to shame.

"One day after a New York investment group raised $110,000 for Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis, the House passed a defense spending bill that preserved $160 million for a Navy project critical to the firm. The man who protected the Navy money? Lewis.


Created in 1992, Cerberus is a hedge fund, a type of private investment group that's not regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It's named after the mythical, three-headed dog guarding the gates of Hades.

In 2003, Cerberus owned more than $140 million in stock and bonds of the bankrupt telecommunications giant WorldCom, financial records show. Its stake in the company, which had filed for bankruptcy protection the previous year, was large enough that a Cerberus executive joined the board of directors of MCI, the company's post-bankruptcy name.

MCI has been a major subcontractor since 2000 on an $8.8 billion project to build a secure computer network for the Navy and Marines. According to a House Appropriations Committee report in 2002, the program had "been unstable since its inception in 1999."


Lewis himself had criticized the Navy-Marine computer project in October 2002, telling The Washington Post he was not satisfied with its progress. He also said he was concerned about MCI's involvement. "When you have a big piece of the pie in trouble, it just gums up a process that already has great difficulty," he said.

Other members of Congress were pushing the federal government to ban MCI from any future contracts because of the $11 billion accounting scandal, which eventually landed former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers a 25-year prison term. MCI now has about $2 billion in annual revenue from government contracts, and the Navy project remains one of its biggest.


On May 16, 2003, the House Armed Services Committee voted to cut 10% of the Navy project's $1.6 billion budget for the upcoming year. Federal lobbying records show that two months earlier, Cerberus hired its first lobbyist, the powerhouse firm Patton Boggs.


In the early summer of 2003, Lewis said, he heard that "some business people in New York" were interested in giving money to his political action committee, the Future Leaders PAC. At the same time, the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which Lewis led and which oversees Pentagon spending, was considering the 2004 defense budget.

On June 16, the Defense Appropriations subcommittee preserved the money for the Navy-Marine Corps network. Lewis said he changed his mind and supported full funding for the program because the Navy maintained that management of the program had improved. On June 26, the full committee followed suit.

On July 7, Lewis traveled to New York for a fundraising dinner with Cerberus executives and their spouses, lawyers and business associates. They gave the Future Leaders PAC more than $110,000 that night and more in the following weeks, bringing the total to nearly $133,000 that month."

Lewis, of course, never discussed any quid pro quo with Cerberus, but the article details the high powered nature of the lobbyists that Cerberus hired and leaves it to this quote to connect the dots between Cerberus' needs, Lewis' funds and the Cerberus' lobbyist team.

"In the opinion of Larry Noble, executive director of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, the timing of the fundraiser within days of a favorable vote "looks like influence buying." Noble is a former chief lawyer for the Federal Election Commission.

None of the people connected to Cerberus had ever given money to either Lewis or his political action committee before the fundraiser or the vote on the bill Lewis sponsored, a USA TODAY analysis of their political contributions shows.


People who want favors from Congress usually don't talk about that business during fundraisers, Noble said. "They don't have to. That's what lobbyists are for."

And Jerry Lewis knows how to work with lobbyist.