With Scandal Lobby Firm, You Can Always Get What You Want

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The perfect lobbyists?

The lobbying firm at the center of the federal investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) had an astonishing record of success in delivering federal money to its clients. One client actually received nearly a hundred-fold return on the fees they paid the firm, ultimately winning more than $67 million in federal dollars over the past seven years.

What’s more, the firm brought home the money by landing nearly every single earmark they requested — at or near the amount of money they asked for. Such success, experts say, is virtually unprecedented.

While the firm finds itself under Justice Department scrutiny, our review of documents relating to its work for the client, Cal State University-San Bernardino (CSU-SB), turned up no evidence of illegal activity. Only the work of lobbyists who were diligent, experienced — and, apparently, very lucky.

Of course, boosting that luck may be the longtime friendship which the firm’s lead partner, Bill Lowery, shares with Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who oversaw all defense spending from his perch atop the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Two of Lewis’ closest aides — Jeffrey Shockey and Letitia White — worked for the firm during this period of tremendous success.

Documents released to investigators by CSU-SB show that since 1999, the Copeland Lowery firm won at least 21 earmarks for the school, mostly from the Pentagon’s budget.

“It’s like an ATM,” said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, who said he was “shocked” by how effective the firm was. “You put money in, you get a lot more out,” he said.University records show that the school has paid $702,500 to the firm since August of 1999. In return, the school has won a whopping $67.2 million in earmarks during that time, according to firm records and a tally by Taxpayers for Common Sense. It’s no surprise that most of that money came from defense projects; Rep. Lewis headed up the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee before rising to committee chair in 2005.

But perhaps even more impressive than the school’s total tally is its consistent record of achievement. A document sent by a lobbyist at Copeland Lowery to a university representative shows that the school got virtually everything it asked for.

Normally, bidders for earmarks can only hope of winning about one out of every three of four earmarks requested, said Ashdown.

After reviewing the document, a source who has followed the appropriations process closely told me that “any institution that got multiple earmarks in a single appropriation bill year after year — often at or close to the level they requested and in some instances, more than they requested — did extraordinarily well by virtually any standard.”

Although the school has had a near perfect record bagging earmarks, there is evidence that the school tempered their appetite. “We do need to limit our requests to avoid the appearance of being too greedy,” Jeff Shockey, then a lobbyist with Copeland Lowery (and also a Cal State San Bernardino alum), counseled in a memo to the school’s president.

In response to TPMmuckraker’s questions about the school’s record achieving earmarks, CSU-SB spokesman Sid Robinson said that “it would not be fair or reasonable to attribute the federal appropriations the university has received to Copeland Lowery. The Foundation at CSU-SB has not received federal appropriations exclusively because of a lobbying firm.”

But Lewis himself has indicated otherwise. In an interview with Jerry Kammer of Copley News Service, who first reported on the school’s relationship with Copeland Lowery, Lewis said that the school “didn’t know how to put together a proposal that logically fit into the mix in the Appropriations Committee” before retaining Jeff Shockey of Copeland Lowery.

Much of the attention on Copeland Lowery has centered on municipal clients of the firm (cities, counties, and universities), many of which, like CSU-SB, were in Lewis’ district.

The clients, in effect, paid Copeland Lowery for help in getting earmarks from their own congressman, who now heads the House Appropriations Committee. A number of these municipalities have been subpoenaed by federal investigators probing Lewis’ ties to Copeland Lowery.

Robinson said that the school does plan to continue its contract through December with Copeland Lowery, which split into two separate firms after news of the investigation broke. The school now works with the Republican half of the firm, a partnership between Bill Lowery, Jean Denton, and Letitia White called Innovative Federal Strategies. He said the school has not been contacted by prosecutors after the subpoena.