WASHINGTON — A senior aide to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) received nearly $2 million in departure payments from a Washington lobbying firm when he returned to Capitol Hill to work for Lewis, who is now under federal investigation for ties to that firm.
The payments to the aide, Jeffrey Shockey, were detailed in a financial disclosure report released Friday by Shockey's lawyers. The report showed that Shockey, now deputy staff director of the Appropriations Committee, received far more than had generally been known -- $1.96 million -- from his former employer, the lobbying firm Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White.
That firm specializes in helping clients get federal spending directives known as earmarks approved by Lewis' committee. Copeland Lowery has helped the congressman raise tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, which helped his drive to become chairman.
Federal investigators are looking into Lewis' ties to the firm. One of the principals of Copeland Lowery is former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), who has long been close to Lewis.
Lewis has denied wrongdoing and said he has not been contacted by federal investigators.
Shockey's lawyers and friends insist he went to great lengths to follow legal and ethics standards when he returned to Capitol Hill from the lobbying firm. The new disclosure report gives a fuller picture of payments the firm made to Shockey. Last year's disclosure report, which included only 2004 income, showed Shockey had received $600,000 as he left the firm, which was a portion of the $1.96 million disclosed Friday.
Shockey's lawyers, who spoke on condition that they not be named, said the payments were a buyout of his ownership stake in the firm. Those payments, they said, were based on anticipated revenue Shockey would have brought in had he remained with the firm.
The Associated Press reported that Shockey's revenue estimate increased from $1.7 million in 2004 to about $3 million in 2005 as he drew new clients to the firm.
In January 2005, Lewis moved from chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to chairman of the full Appropriations Committee. Anticipation of Lewis' rise to a more powerful post might help explain the growth in Shockey's expected income. Shockey had worked for Lewis until 1999, when he left to join the lobbying practice. He stayed with Copeland Lowery for six years before returning to Capitol Hill for a second stint with Lewis.
As deputy staff director of the Appropriations Committee, Shockey helps with day-to-day operations of the panel, which, along with its Senate counterpart, controls the purse strings of discretionary government spending. His annual salary is $170,000.
Shockey's attorneys said the payouts were made because federal rules required Shockey to divest himself of any business interest that might constitute a conflict of interest when he returned to government service.
"This was a mandatory sale of Shockey's business required by the federal rules," said one person close to Shockey who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Shockey complied with the letter and spirit of the law and reached into his own pocket to make sure that everything was disclosed as required."
The lawyers released copies of letters they and Lewis had sent to the House Ethics Committee to show they had complied with ethics standards. A letter from Lewis said that Shockey would not participate in any matters that might be considered a conflict of interest.
Investigators are probing the relationship between Lewis and Lowery's firm after a guilty plea by another Southern California lawmaker, former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), who admitted accepting bribes.