Saturday, June 03, 2006

Activities Of Top Female Lobbyist Scrutinized

A former top aide to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) who later became a leading lobbyist in Washington is having her influence over the appropriations process investigated according to the New York Times.

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...

(F)ederal officials who have been briefed on it say prosecutors are looking into Letitia Hoadley 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.

On Thursday, one of Ms. White's clients, San Bernardino County, Calif., said it had received a subpoena from prosecutors seeking information about its dealings with her firm and with Mr. Lewis and his staff members...

After Republicans took control of the House in 1994, Mr. Lewis became chairman of the housing and veterans affairs appropriations subcommittee, leaving five years later to become chairman of the defense subcommittee. Such subcommittee chairmen are known as cardinals because of their power over large parts of the federal budget. Among other things, only the cardinals and their top aides see each member's requests for earmarks, and only the cardinals have the authority to approve their insertion into the House spending bills.

As the top aide representing Mr. Lewis's office on the appropriations committee, Ms. White was responsible for presenting earmark requests from him and other House members to the staff members who wrote the bills, and she sometimes acted as a gatekeeper to Mr. Lewis for those seeking money. She found herself fielding calls from scores of lawmakers and lobbyists, all seeking money for favored hospitals or military contractors. Mr. Cunningham was among the many members presenting earmark requests to her and the committee.

And Brent R. Wilkes, one of the contractors said to have bribed Mr. Cunningham, as well as Mr. Lowery, who lobbied for Mr. Wilkes, both lavished Ms. White with attention. They often bought her dinners and bottles of wine, two former associates of Mr. Wilkes recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the federal investigation. "She was the queen bee," one said. Other lobbyists all over Washington also sought to cozy up to Ms. White because of her position on the committee staff.

By 1999, when Mr. Lewis had assumed control of the $300 billion defense subcommittee, Ms. White's influence with him had become a subject of some discussion on K Street. A small military contractor, Recon/Optical, which benefited from Mr. Lewis's earmarks, filed a lawsuit charging, among other things, that an official of Lockheed Martin had asserted that Ms. White "controls" Mr. Lewis and that a friend of hers who lobbied for Recon had swayed her on its behalf. The suit said the Lockheed official had threatened to withhold certain payments unless Recon "shuts up" Ms. White.

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