As the top aide representing Mr. Lewis's office on the appropriations committee, Ms. White was responsible for presenting earmark requests from him and other House members to the staff members who wrote the bills, and she sometimes acted as a gatekeeper to Mr. Lewis for those seeking money. She found herself fielding calls from scores of lawmakers and lobbyists, all seeking money for favored hospitals or military contractors. Mr. Cunningham was among the many members presenting earmark requests to her and the committee.
And Brent R. Wilkes, one of the contractors said to have bribed Mr. Cunningham, as well as Mr. Lowery, who lobbied for Mr. Wilkes, both lavished Ms. White with attention. They often bought her dinners and bottles of wine, two former associates of Mr. Wilkes recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the federal investigation. "She was the queen bee," one said. Other lobbyists all over Washington also sought to cozy up to Ms. White because of her position on the committee staff.
By 1999, when Mr. Lewis had assumed control of the $300 billion defense subcommittee, Ms. White's influence with him had become a subject of some discussion on K Street. A small military contractor, Recon/Optical, which benefited from Mr. Lewis's earmarks, filed a lawsuit charging, among other things, that an official of Lockheed Martin had asserted that Ms. White "controls" Mr. Lewis and that a friend of hers who lobbied for Recon had swayed her on its behalf. The suit said the Lockheed official had threatened to withhold certain payments unless Recon "shuts up" Ms. White.