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June 8, 2006
More Corruption?

The Los Angeles Times reported earlier today that the stepdaughter of a powerful Congressional committe chairman benefitted from a relationship with a company that had business before her stepfather's panel. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chair of the ultrapowerful House Appropriations Committee, oversaw the granting of over $11 million in earmarks to Trident Systems, whose founder and president hired his stepdaughter to run his political action committee:

A political fundraising committee headed by a defense contractor has paid thousands of dollars in fees to the stepdaughter of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) at a time when the contractor has been lobbying Congress for funding.

Lewis' stepdaughter, Julia Willis-Leon, has been paid more than $42,000 by the Small Biz Tech Political Action Committee, according to campaign finance records. The PAC is led by Nicholas Karangelen, founder and president of Trident Systems Inc.

Records show the company received at least $11.7 million in earmarked funds in recent defense spending bills over which Lewis' committee has jurisdiction.

The Small Biz Tech PAC was created early last year "to establish a strong and clear voice for small technology businesses" dealing with Congress, according to its website, which features a photo of Lewis at one of its events.

PACs customarily collect money from donors and distribute it to political figures in the form of campaign contributions. But in the case of Small Biz Tech, almost one-third of the $115,350 it has reported raising was given to Lewis' stepdaughter, according to figures in its financial disclosure reports.

To quote Mr. Mackey from South Park: Uh, this is bad, mm-kay?

The PAC paid Willis-Leon $42K during its year of operation, while they only distributed $15,600 to candidates and other political entities. The PAC and Willis-Leon say that she earned the money as a fundraiser, but a commission rate of almost 30% sounds more than a little unbelievable, even in the murky world of politics. This looks like an obvious case of quid pro quo, a payoff made to family members in a transparent attempt to rationalize the graft.

Even murkier, however, are connections that lead through the same contracting firm that figured prominently in the Randy Cunningham case, ACDS Inc. Its CEO Brent Wilkes got charged as a co-conspirator in the Cunningham case, and his firm had retained Copeland Lowery as its lobbying firm. One Copeland Lowery partner is Letitia White, who worked for Rep. Lewis as an aide prior to becoming a partner in the lobbying firm.

Letitia White is the significant other to Karangelen. They own a townhouse in DC that also serves as the business address of Small Biz Tech PAC, the firm that paid Willis-Leon more than a quarter of all the funds ever raised. Naturally, Copeland Lowery represents Trident Systems as well, helping them to score the $11 million from a committee headed up by the stepdaughter of their "employee". They received four contracts to get the funds, all of them from earmarks rather than normal appropriations.

Federal investigators have an open investigation into Lewis' dealings with Trident and Small Biz Tech PAC. If they find enough evidence, they should prosecute him to the full extent of the law. Even if they cannot find any laws being broken, this tawdry arrangement shows just how much power earmarks have to corrupt our system of government. We need to push Congress on every instance of abuse to reform the earmarking system to make it completely transparent, creating the Trent Lott Pork Database for rapid discovery of our worst sausage-makers and the ability to glean the possible influences between pork and political payoffs. Even better, Congress should eliminate the earmark process altogether and take away the incentive for lobbyists and contractors to buy our politicians.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 8, 2006 9:13 PM

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