Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chuck's Dirty Bucks: Jerry Lewis Category

The ever-expanding corruption revelations about Republicans in Washington could turn into a nice windfall for Acadiana charities if Congressman Charles Boustany keeps giving away tainted campaign contributions.

The latest exposé appears on the front page of USAToday. It's about the absolutely amazing coincidence of a large campaign contribution to a Republican Congressman (and Boustany campaign contributor!) and congressional approval of funding for a Navy project important to the firm making the contribution.

The Congressman is Jerry Lewis. He's chairman of the House Appropriations Committee now and admits that he used the money raised for him by Cerberus Capital Management to win that post by, among other things, making contributions to 2004 Republican congressional campaigns like Charles Boustany's.

Here are the lead paragraphs:
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.

The fundraiser, which took place July 7, 2003, and the subsequent vote illustrate the kind of relationship between congressman and contributor that's under increased scrutiny in the nation's capital.
Lewis insists that he did nothing illegal. At least one watch dog disagrees:
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.
It also appears the money might have changed the Congressman's thinking about the project, which involved MCI, the communications company that was in the midst of an accounting and fraud scandal.
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.
Read the entire story. It's illuminating. The short version of it is this: Money was raised, changed hands, changed minds, changed votes.

Here are the paragraphs that tie this money to Boustany:
Meanwhile, Lewis was gearing up for the race to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — one of the most powerful jobs in Congress, with the clout to push pet projects or cut funding for programs that fall out of favor.

To win, Lewis had to impress House Republican leaders with his ability to raise money for other GOP candidates. Lewis said he lost his chairmanship of the Republican Conference, then the No. 3 post in the House Republican hierarchy, in January 1993 partially because of weak fundraising.

After that loss, Lewis focused on working his way up in the Appropriations Committee hierarchy. He helped produce budgets with millions of dollars earmarked for his district and pet projects of Cunningham and other Republicans.

Lewis' Future Leaders PAC gave $407,000 to 69 House candidates in the 2004 election. The Cerberus-related money was equal to nearly a third of that amount. In 2003, the PAC collected $522,725 — a quarter of it connected to Cerberus.
Boustany's 2004 campaign got $15,000 in contributions from Lewis' Future Leaders PAC in three separate $5,000 contributions, according to Federal Election Commission records. Lewis also kicked in another $2,000 from his own campaign in two separate contributions to Boustany's 2004 campaign. Boustany picked up another $5,000 from Future Leaders PAC in the current election cycle.

But, Boustany also benefited from the Lewis/Cerberus relationship in another way:
Lewis also got Cerberus to help with his fundraising for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the arm of the GOP that gives money to House candidates. Lewis said he invited Cerberus executives to an April 2004 NRCC fundraiser he chaired that included a speech by President Bush.

The NRCC got $70,000 in Cerberus-related donations during the first two weeks of April 2004, including $25,000 from Cerberus founder Stephen Feinberg, records show. "I had been doing this for over a dozen years, helping to raise money for our members," Lewis said. "Others (candidates for Appropriations chairman) began to be helpful with fundraising, but that had been a recent and newfound interest of theirs."
Federal Election Commission records show that the National Republican Congressional Committee spent $72,620 in coordinated spending on Boustany's 2004 campaign and another $96,593 on independent expenditures on behalf of Boustany's campaign. Now, of course, the national parties raised millions of dollars for congressional races, so Boustany's share of that Cerberus/Lewis effort might well have been small through this particular channel. In any event, it was no where near as large as Cerberus's impact on Future Leaders PAC dollars.

Awash in money from questionable relationships resulting from helping companies protect their interests (AKA, 'The K Street Project'), Republicans are reduced to hair splitting about what is ethical and what is legal. So much for the end of moral relativism these zealots were supposed to bring to government.

As for Congressman Boustany, this stuff goes right to the heart of the campaign he ran in 2004. Remember the commercial where he stands in a field and a voice-over said that he was not part of the old corrupt politics of the past? Got that right! He was smack dab in the middle of a way of politics that owed its very soul to the kind of corruption that Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay have come to personify.

Even if he is personally not corrupt, Charles Boustany is precisely the kind of congressman a large-scale corrupt enterprise operated by Abramoff, DeLay, Roy Blunt and others needed in order to maintain their control: Charles Boustany is a reliable party vote! And campaign contributions from the Republican House leadership bought that reliability!

No comments: