The Los Angeles Times is reporting that after three decades in Congress the pork-fond Rep. Jerry Lewis is stepping down. The Times writes:
His legacy includes the Lewis Center for Educational Research in Apple Valley, the Jerry Lewis Swim Center in San Bernardino and the Jerry Lewis Community Center in Highland, plus road, sewer and other projects. He also has played a key role in securing money to help California recover from earthquakes and wildfires and to pay for jailing illegal immigrants.
But with Republicans determined to reduce the federal budget deficit, opportunities to bring home the bacon have diminished. Lewis also lost an effort to win back the Appropriations Committee chairmanship last year.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, a profligate big spender, was involved in one of the largest lobbying firm scandals in Congress’s history.
Despite public swearing off earmarks, Lewis secured $11 million in two earmarks for Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif. The founders of that company, Jack Dangermond and his wife Laura, donated at least $13,800 to Mr. Lewis’s campaigns since 2007.
The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page called him “The Minority Maker” and the “Earmarker in Chief” for damaging the limited government brand of the Republican Party, writing on June 15, 2006:
Federal investigators are examining whether Mr. Lewis abused his position by steering earmarks to his political friends and former employees. In one case, the Justice Department is investigating whether defense industry lobbyists were urged to contribute money to a political action committee run by Mr. Lewis’s stepdaughter, with a good portion of the money used for her own salary.
Another aspect of the probe is said to be whether Mr. Lewis steered hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked projects to the clients of his friend, campaign contributor and former House colleague Bill Lowery. One of Mr. Lowery’s clients is an unindicted co-conspirator in the bribery scandal that sent former Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham to jail for approving earmarks to defense contractors in exchange for personal gifts.
The lobbying firm’s defense clients receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts from Appropriations. Two of the top rainmakers at Mr. Lowery’s firm have been former Appropriations staffers who worked for Mr. Lewis. This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Lowery’s firm paid one of those staffers, Jeffrey Shockey, nearly $2 million when he left the firm and returned to Appropriations when Mr. Lewis became Chairman in 2005. Roll Call newspaper also reported this week that Mr. Shockey’s former lobbying firm received more than $1 million in higher fees from government contractors shortly after he returned to Capitol Hill.
Mr. Lewis recently hired a top criminal defense team and denies any wrongdoing. He says that all earmarks and contracts went for projects with the “highest standards of public benefit.” But even if all of this is technically legal, the cronyism and revolving door between Congress and lobbyists look terrible and certainly won’t help Republicans restore an image of fiscal rectitude before November.
More broadly, the Lewis episode underscores the link between Member-steered earmarks and the opportunity for corruption. Convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff openly boasted that earmarks were his political currency and he called the Appropriations Committee that doles them out a “favor factory” for lobbyists. Duke Cunningham parlayed earmarks into a Rolls Royce in his driveway, until his greed landed him in the pokey. We also now know that one of the major beneficiaries of the most notorious earmark from last year — the $300 million Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska — is a relative of GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski.
This spring, House Republicans elected new leaders and promised to restrain earmarking. But this week the House is busily approving a $68 billion Treasury, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bill stuffed with more than 1,500 new earmarks at a cost of some $900 million.
They include $500,000 for a scenic trail in Monterey, California; $1.5 million for the William Faulkner Museum in Oxford, Mississippi; $500,000 for a swimming pool in Columbus, Ohio; and $500,000 for an athletic facility in Yucaipa, California. Several of these projects, including the athletic facility, have been promoted by Bill Lowery’s lobbying firm — the very firm in the middle of the Jerry Lewis probe.
Be sure not to miss this report from CNN on his big spending ways.