Saturday, June 03, 2006

Another Boustany Contributor/Colleague Under Criminal Investigation

Separate stories in Saturday's Los Angeles Times and the New York Times look at the growing federal criminal investigation that is focused on U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis of California. Like indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, like convicted former Congressman Duke Cunningham, Lewis contributed to Charles Boustany's 2004 campaign for Congress.

The investigation into Lewis is linked to the Cunningham corruption probe and has elements of the Abramoff and DeLay scandals through the revolving door role of Lewis staffers who became lobbyists. It involves federal funding for specific projects (known as earmarks) in return for campaign contributions.

The investigation centers on ties between Lewis and his staff and the lobbying firm of former California Republican Congressman Bill Lowery, the man who Lewis succeeded in his congressional seat.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a federal grand jury is focusing its investigation on earmarks for projects in San Bernardino County, California. The county is a client of Lowery's firm:
A federal grand jury conducting a criminal investigation has subpoenaed San Bernardino County records related to a Washington lobbying firm with close ties to Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, according to federal documents.

Federal investigators are looking into the relationship between Lewis (R-Redlands) and a Washington lobbyist linked to disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), three people familiar with the investigation told The Times last month. The city of Redlands also received a grand jury subpoena.

Investigators are said to be particularly interested in whether intermingling between Lewis' aides and lobbyist Bill Lowery's staff led to favorable treatment for Lowery's clients, sources told The Times. Lewis and Lowery have denied any wrongdoing.

The subpoena delivered to the county was issued "in connection with an official criminal investigation," according to a cover letter from the U.S. attorney's Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section in Los Angeles.

The investigation is part of a federal probe stemming from Cunningham's conviction for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and favors from defense contractors.

In the May 17 subpoena, obtained by The Times, the Los Angeles Grand Jury asks for e-mails, memoranda, contracts and other records regarding the county's decision to hire Lowery's firm — Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White — as well as billing records and all other communications between the county and Lowery or members of his firm.

The grand jury also demanded "all documents relating to communications by and between you [San Bernardino County] and United States Rep. Jerry Lewis … and/or any member of his congressional or committee staff'' and "all documents relating to communications by and between CLJ [Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White] and Lewis and/or any member of his congressional or committee staff."

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI, the IRS and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, a federal prosecutor stated in a letter that accompanied the subpoena.
The New York Times story focuses on a partner in the lobbying firm who once worked for Lewis, Letitia Hoadley White:
WASHINGTON, June 2 — Letitia Hoadley White arrived on Capitol Hill 25 years ago as a 22-year-old receptionist with a bachelor's degree in fashion design, fresh from a job at Women's Wear Daily.

When her boss, Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, assigned her to work with the appropriations committee in 1986, Ms. White found her calling: cramming spending bills with narrow provisions to finance lawmakers' pet projects. When she left the Hill three years ago, she quickly became K Street's queen of earmarks, as those provisions are known, landing tens of millions of federal dollars lobbying for her clients.

Now, Ms. White's success has drawn less welcome attention. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Lewis and other lawmakers may have traded earmarks for illicit payments from lobbyists and contractors — an outgrowth of the bribery indictment of Randy Cunningham, a former congressman from California.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry is continuing, federal officials who have been briefed on it say prosecutors are looking into Ms. White's ties to Mr. Lewis, her old boss, and to his friend Bill Lowery, a former California congressman who is now Ms. White's lobbying partner.

While working for Mr. Lewis, Ms. White helped direct several hundred million dollars in contracts to clients of Mr. Lowery's firm. The firm and its clients, meanwhile, accounted for more than a third of the $1.3 million Mr. Lewis's political action committee has raised since 2000.
The NYT reports that Ms. White worked to get Lewis elected chairman of the Appropriations Committee after the 2004 election by helping him raise money during that election cycle, which Lewis then gave to Republican candidates to win their allegiance for votes in the Republican caucus once the new Congress was elected.

Federal campaign finance records indicate that Lewis gave Boustany three separate $1,000 contributions in 2004. Those records also indicate that Ms. White's husband, Richard H. White, may have also contributed $1,000 to Boustany's 2004 campaign.

This is not to imply that Boustany has done anything wrong. But it does highlight the corrosive effect of the power of money in politics, particularly in the House of Representatives with its two-year election cycle.

Earmarking money for specific projects in return for contributions has became a hallmark of Republican majority rule in the House. It is even recognized by some members of the party as a form of corruption.

A possible solution for this would be to require public financing of campaigns and for broadcasters to allocate fixed amounts of time to candidates.

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