San Diego Union Tribune
June 8, 2006
PAC fund's ties to lawmaker at issue
Lewis' daughter runs it; critics say it's unethical
By Jerry Kammer and Marcus Stern
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – A small group of lobbyists and defense contractors
doing business with the House Appropriations Committee has endowed
a political fund run by the stepdaughter of the committee's
chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis.
About a third of the $113,700 that Julia Willis-Leon has raised
through her Small Biz Tech PAC has gone to pay her salary and
expenses. Political action committees, or PACs, are a legal way
for people, businesses and other organizations to give money to
political candidates. Willis-Leon's 16-month-old PAC has given
$15,600 to candidates. Meanwhile, it has paid her more than double
that amount – $37,420.
Willis-Leon, 44, denied wrongdoing.
“Everything has been disclosed; there's nothing to hide,” she
said Tuesday night in a telephone interview from her home in Las
But political watchdog groups decried the arrangement as a
stealthy way to curry favor with Lewis.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., said the
arrangement might be legal, but it's “completely outrageous and
it's completely unethical. Members are not supposed to be using
their positions to enrich their family.”
Federal investigators have been issuing subpoenas as part of an
investigation into whether Lewis benefited improperly from the
flow of federal money he has directed to contractors and a host of
schools and agencies concentrated in his district. Lewis, a
Redlands Republican, has denied any wrongdoing.
Willis-Leon said she runs the PAC from her home in Las Vegas,
but the street address listed on its Web site is a three-story,
million-dollar Capitol Hill townhouse co-owned by a lobbyist and a
defense contractor, both with ties to her stepfather, Lewis.
The lobbyist is former Lewis staffer Letitia White, and the
contractor is one of her clients, Trident Systems founder and
president Nicholas Karangelen. Virginia-based Trident has received
millions of dollars in earmarked funds controlled by the
Appropriations Committee, and White is one of the company's key
lobbyists. The company provides hardware and software systems to
military and commercial clients.
Of the $113,700 raised by Willis-Leon's PAC, $46,000 came from
White, her husband Richard, and small defense contractors
represented by her lobbying firm, Copeland, Jacquez, Lowery,
Denton & White.
One of the lobbying firm's partners, former Rep. Bill Lowery,
specializes in getting earmarks from the Appropriations Committee.
Lowery, a Republican who represented a San Diego district and once
served with Lewis on the Appropriations Committee, is a close
friend of Lewis and has a long list of clients who pay his firm
millions of dollars to help them get government contracts.
When White worked for Lewis, her principal duty was to screen
earmark requests. She left the post in 2003 and immediately went
to work as a lobbyist with Lowery. Since then, her clients have
gotten tens of millions of dollars in earmarks from the
Appropriations Committee. In the three years she has represented
Trident, her firm has billed the company $340,000, according to
federal disclosure records.
Small Biz Tech PAC was registered with the Federal Election
Commission in February 2005, one month after Lewis became chairman
of the Appropriations Committee.
While congressional ethics rules put a $50 cap on gifts to
members of Congress, there is no similar cap for their relatives.
Nor is there a rule against lawmakers using campaign funds to pay
spouses or other relatives, as long as those relatives are paid a
reasonable fee for legitimate services.
A spokesman for Lewis had no comment yesterday about his
stepdaughter's PAC. The spokesman for Lowery and White's lobbying
firm did not return phone calls.
But campaign finance watchdog groups criticized the payments to
Lewis' stepdaughter from lobbyists and contractors seeking money
from the Appropriations Committee.
“I'm shocked by this,” said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for
Common Sense. “They put the daughter of the House's most powerful
appropriator on their payroll.”
Willis-Leon is the daughter of Arlene Lewis, who is Lewis' wife
and his chief of staff.
Willis-Leon said the PAC was founded to advocate for small
businesses, which frequently complain that the federal procurement
bureaucracy ignores them in favor of large contractors.
She said she travels “very rarely” to Washington. Though the
PAC Web site gives its address as the home owned by White and
Karangelen, Willis-Leon said the PAC used the address only in its
initial stages and maintains no office there.
Yesterday, after a series of questions was faxed to her at her
request, Willis-Leon told a reporter, “I've been advised not to
talk to you.”
Federal investigators last month began looking into the
relationship between Lewis and Lowery and White's lobbying firm,
which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Lewis'
campaigns while representing clients that have received hundreds
of millions of dollars in earmarked funds.
Most of the earmarked money came from the Defense Department
budget, which Lewis oversaw from 1999 to 2005 as chairman of the
Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
In March last year, Lewis addressed a luncheon held by the PAC,
whose Web site says his comments reflected “his considerable
concern that the federal agencies' program managers and
procurement officers continue to ignore the wealth of innovative
and affordable resources available from American small technology
White and Karangelen purchased the Capitol Hill townhouse that
serves as the home of record for the PAC in December 2003 for $1
The three-story yellow clapboard structure with dark green trim
is directly behind the Library of Congress and within easy walking
distance of every congressional office.
Union-Tribune researcher Erin Hobbs contributed to this
Kammer: (202) 737-7681;