Delving into Rep. Lewis’ earmark requests


Ben Goad reports for the Press Enterprise that Rep. Jerry Lewis, former chair and now ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, earmarked $96 million for firms represented by Innovative Federal Strategies, which was once under federal investigation:

Inland Rep. Jerry Lewis is requesting more than $96 million in federal earmarks for clients of Washington lobbyists whose dealings with the veteran lawmaker were part of a criminal investigation launched three years ago.

Would-be recipients of the earmarks, including Inland cities, agencies, hospitals and defense contractors with local branches, paid more than $1.3 million to the firm — more than a third of its total lobbying revenue, records show.

As the top Republican on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Lewis, R-Redlands, is well positioned to influence spending bills. Despite the scrutiny and criticism of earmarks — spending requests lawmakers insert into bills, often for projects in their districts — Lewis remains unapologetic about his funding requests.

Last week, I started poking into the same earmark disclosure list, and put together a little database of the disclosures that’s available here — I include links to the lobbying disclosures of those intended recipients that had hired K Street representatives.

A few things that struck me: 1) Lewis did the same thing back in 2007. Kevin Bogardus of The Hill reported in August 2007 — that was before the federal investigation of Innovative Federal Strategies seemed to unravel — that Lewis sponsored or co-sponsored earmarks in the defense appropriations bill worth $55 million for clients of Innovative Federal Strategies for fiscal year 2008. So the FY2010 requests are par for the course. Compare that to, say, Rep. Peter Visclosky, under investigation for his ties to PMA Group, who didn’t request any earmarks for the firm’s former clients according to his disclosures. 2) When I ran the contribution numbers for 2010 (just the first quarter numbers) from Innovative Federal Strategies’ clients to Lewis, they weren’t particularly robust: from individuals, $4,600 from a pair of ESRI executives; from PACs, nothing. I ran the numbers for the 2008 cycle as well using CRP’s open, coded data (I didn’t run cities and towns and I only ran FY2010 earmark request beneficiaries, which excluded prior earmark recipients and contributors like SAIC and General Atomics), and came up with $34,600 from employees, family members and PACs of Innovative Federal Strategies to Lewis’ campaign and leadership PAC–nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly on a par with campaign money from PMA Group and its clients. Visclosky, for example, took in $369,750 in the 2008 election cycle, according to our fine friends at the Center for Responsive Politics. On the other hand, Visclosky took in nothing from former PMA Group clients in the first quarter of 2010. 3) I counted 32 requests for clients of Innovative Federal Strategies, and overall there were 61 requests asking for more than $166 million for recipients–towns, universities, municipal water authorities, defense contractors, Indian tribes–that had hired lobbyists. Jim Specht, Lewis’ spokesman, told me that the “vast majority” of groups that ask them for earmarks have hired a lobbyist. He said he couldn’t speak to why this was the case. This still strikes me as the biggest question about earmarks. Lawmakers defend earmarks by arguing that they know their districts — do they, or do they know lobbyists who know their districts? Lewis also requested 28 earmarks potentially worth more than $51 million for entities that haven’t hired a lobbyist. 4) It’s so much more interesting to start delving into these lists than it is to go hunting for them all hours of the night in the dark recesses of congressional Web sites.

Some questions off the observations: 1) How many members have a similar ratio (2/3s of requests go to recipients represented by lobbyists)? Is it the norm? Or a deviation, the result of Lewis’ position on the Appropriations Committee? 2) These are requests for earmarks, not funded, signed-sealed-and-delivered earmarks. So what does the final percentage end up looking like? And what about the money split? Does it remain at roughly $1 in earmarked money for those who don’t hire lobbyists vs. $3.25 in earmarked money for those that do? 3) Would following this and tracking these percentages potentially say more about the efficacy of lobbyists, who spend part of their time trying to persuade members of Congress that the priorities of their clients are higher than those of everyone else?