A Jan. 27 article incorrectly identified the Freshmen Political Action Committee as Rep. John E. Sweeney's leadership PAC. Sweeney is the Freshmen PAC's honorary chairman.
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K Street's New Ways Spawn More Pork
But increasingly, lawmakers have gone around authorizers and agency officials to finance pet projects in their home districts. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) secured $207 million for the "Prairie Parkway" through Kane and Kendall counties in Illinois in last year's major highway law, although the Illinois Department of Transportation is only two years into a five-year study of the project and has not yet determined whether a highway is needed or whether improvements to existing roads would suffice.
The hunt for earmarks on Capitol Hill and on K Street has opened up new avenues for lobbyists and lawmakers to come together. Seven members of the House Appropriations Committee -- Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), Kay Granger (R-Tex.), Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.), John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) -- have political action committees headed by registered lobbyists or former registered lobbyists with business before the committee, according to the Center for Public Integrity and campaign records.
David A. Metzner, treasurer of Sweeney's Freshmen PAC, has represented the Association of American Railroads; it is a frequent petitioner of the House Appropriations subcommittee for the departments of Transportation, the Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, on which the New York Republican sits. Leon G. Billings, DeLauro's treasurer and longtime friend, has represented groups such as the American Lung Association and the Lincoln Pulp and Paper Co. His lobbying registration for the Industry Urban Development Agency targets the Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee's bill.
In the Senate, Appropriations Committee members Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) have retained PAC treasurers who have served as Appropriations lobbyists. Richard B. Ladd, treasurer of Stevens's Northern Lights PAC, has lobbied the Appropriations defense subcommittee on the behalf of defense contractors. William C. Oldaker, who heads the PACs of Reid and Dorgan, has lobbied multiple Appropriations subcommittees for the universities, science centers and municipal water districts he has represented, according to Senate lobbying records.
"It's completely out of control, and we are not going to reform a system, as far as lobbying is concerned, if we have a process that lends itself to one influential lobbyist with a relationship with one member," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters this month.
Chairman Lewis strongly defended his committee, saying that after years of unchecked growth, the value of home-district earmarks retreated in the spending bills for this fiscal year by nearly $3 billion. One bill, funding labor, health and education programs, was voted down by the House the first time it went to the floor, in part because Lewis stripped it of every earmark. The problem, Lewis said, is with the campaign finance system. Lobbyists, such as his friend Bill Lowery, are helping to raise money to keep Republicans in the majority, and Lewis would not apologize for that.
"If you're going to impact public policy, you have to be in the majority," he said. "I don't back off that responsibility at all. Mr. Lowery is only one piece of that, and frankly a relatively small piece of it."
In a series of articles last month, Copley News Service laid out the relationship between the two that included Lowery raising campaign funds for Lewis, the exchange of longtime staff members and the channeling of millions of dollars to Lowery's California clients.
Lowery, the partners at his firm -- Copeland, Lowery, Jacquez, Denton & White -- and their clients have donated more than a third of the $1.3 million that Lewis's political action committee has raised in the past six years. One longtime member of Lewis's staff, Jeff S. Shockey, left Capitol Hill to join Lowery's firm, then returned recently as the House Appropriations Committee's deputy staff director. Letitia H. White, a Lewis staffer for 21 years, began lobbying for Lowery in 2003.
Wilkes, the California businessman linked to the Cunningham corruption case, began tapping federal spending sources in the mid-1990s, after Cunningham helped him win at least $80 million in Pentagon earmarks for a company he ran that converted paper documents to digital images.
In mid-2002, Wilkes became involved with a new company, PerfectWave Technologies LLC. He then retained the Alexander Strategy Group, a high-powered firm operated by former aides to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), to lobby for defense appropriations. Wilkes was seeking funding for the development of an "automated speech recognition technology."
Shortly thereafter, individuals related to Wilkes and PerfectWave made large campaign donations to members of the GOP leadership, Doolittle and Lewis, who was then chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee. PerfectWave is housed in Wilkes's office building in Poway, Calif.
Doolittle and his leadership PAC received at least $85,000 from 2002 to 2005 from Wilkes, PerfectWave associates and their wives, and from Alexander Strategy lobbyists Edwin A. Buckham and Tony C. Rudy and their wives.
Wilkes was successful. Congress approved the first earmark for PerfectWave as part of the fiscal 2003 defense bill, which was passed in October 2002. That $1 million earmark was followed by an installment of $18 million in 2003 and another $18 million in 2004. Doolittle, whose district is in Northern California, was a guest at a fundraising dinner at Wilkes's office in San Diego in the fall of 2003.
Doolittle's office released a letter from a Marine Corps official dated last Feb. 25 that praised the PerfectWave technology. A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee said there are no additional funds for the project in the fiscal 2006 budget because the Marines have not spent all the money that was earmarked.
Staff writers James V. Grimaldi and R. Jeffrey Smith and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report