Rep. Jerry Lewis and the Inadequacy of Disclosure

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I’ve heard this defense somewhere before, and that time too it seemed to be both off-point and inaccurate: a spokeswoman for Rep. Jerry Lewis’ team of defense attorneys said that the chair of the Appropriations Committee “complied with all legal disclosure requirements.” Lewis was invited to get into the initial public offering of a new bank (an invitation that was not sent out to the general public); his initial investment of $22,000 is now worth almost $60,000, according to the Associated Press, which adds this interesting information:

Besides his friendship with bank Chairman James Robinson, Lewis has other connections to the bank. Several of its board members have contributed to his campaigns and are linked to businesses that shared in the bonanza of federal dollars Lewis steered back home. …

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The stock was recommended to Lewis by Robinson, whose wife, Barbara, is a former chair and member of the board of the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Foundation, a branch of Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Lewis is credited with helping direct more than $200 million in taxpayer dollars to the medical center, where facilities are named in his honor. In June, Lewis, an honorary board member at the children’s hospital and a director emeritus of its nonprofit foundation, said the medical center had benefited from $40 million in congressional “earmarks,” funding inserted into legislation that often gets little or no review. …

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Other Security Bank board members include Bruce Varner, a lawyer and longtime Lewis friend who sits on the board of the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino, which has received more than $800,000 in federal funds.

The purpose of Personal Financial Disclosure Forms, according the House Ethics Manual, is to “inform the public about the financial interests of government officials in order to increase public confidence in the integrity of government and to deter potential conflicts of interest.” In his 2005 personal financial disclosure form, Lewis listed the deal and even provided a copy of the letter in which he was informed that only 2,200–rather than the 2,500 shares he wanted to buy–was available for purchase. But there’s no indication anywhere the bank’s board included individuals who’d benefited from Lewis’s direct actions as a lawmaker. Part of the problem, obviously, is the system of earmarks which allows a member of Congress to use taxpayer money to reward pet projects. But is your confidence in the integrity of government increased when it takes an AP reporter’s digging to find out what’s really behind a few lines on a financial disclosure form?

And what else is in those forms?

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