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Rep. Lewis Is House's Top Recipient of Lobbyist Donations

A watchdog study ranks lawmakers by how much campaign money is from special interests. Members of both parties are high on the lists.

October 19, 2006|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — When the list was finished, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) came out on top, ahead of all his House peers. But this was one triumph no one in his office was celebrating.

Lewis, according to an analysis released Wednesday, got more campaign cash from lobbyists than any of his colleagues did.

The lawmaker is under federal scrutiny over his ties to lobbyists whose clients have received millions of dollars in earmarks from the appropriations committee. He has denied any impropriety.

Congress members' relationships with lobbyists and special interests seeking favors in the form of earmarks have been at the center of a wave of scandals involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) and others.

Lewis' No. 1 ranking was based on a study issued by Public Citizen, a Washington watchdog, of how much money special interests had given to members of Congress. The group advocates public financing of campaigns.

"When lobbyists give members of Congress money, they expect -- and often get -- something in return," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook.

She said public financing would let lawmakers "spend less time raising money and more time serving the public."

Lawmakers were ranked according to how much campaign money they accepted in four categories: from lobbyists, political action committees, out-of-state individuals, and individuals donating $200 or less. They were ranked in each category and overall.

"Candidates across the political spectrum are far too dependent on big-moneyed donors, lobbyists, out-of-state money and PACs," said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen's Congress Watch.

"People on Capitol Hill who have been staffers will tell you, they know who their $2,000 contributors are.... They're a lot more likely to get their phone calls returned. They're a lot more likely to get a meeting with a member of Congress."

Lewis raked in more than $700,000 from lobbyists between January 1999 and December 2005.

Lewis' office declined to comment.

Among senators, Banking Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) was ranked the top recipient of lobbyist contributions.

Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) accepted the least amount of money from lobbyists: zero, according to the study.

The analysis was unlikely to become campaign fodder in the battle for control of Congress, because members of both parties were high on the lists. For example, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the senior Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) were ranked the top recipients in their chambers of PAC contributions between January 1999 and June 2006.

The analysis did not detail how much lawmakers received from specific industries.

Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser said: "Max prides himself on always putting Montana first.... He's been a leader on campaign finance reform. His only yardstick is what's right for Montana, and folks here know that he'll always put our state before politics."

The top names on the lists were party leaders, chairs and ranking members of key committees, or lawmakers mulling bids for higher office.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is exploring a 2008 presidential campaign, and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), who led the fundraising effort for House Democrats in 1999 and 2000, were their chambers' top recipients of out-of-state contributions from individuals.

The group's analysis drew criticism on Capitol Hill because it defined "special interest" as not only lobbyists and PACs but any out-of-state donors and any contributors of more than $200.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) was singled out for receiving only about 8% of his contributions from small donors -- those giving $200 or less -- the lowest percentage in the House.

Waxman chief of staff Phil Schiliro said the figure was a reflection of how little time the congressman spent fundraising. "When he does do fundraising, he focuses more on people who can contribute more," Schiliro said, adding: "If a member represents Beverly Hills, as he does, the chances are that people will be able to give more."

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) received about 5% of his contributions from small donors, the lowest proportion in that chamber.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had the 10th-highest proportion -- 53% -- of small-donor contributions in the Senate. Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.), who is retiring, and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) had the largest proportions of small-donor contributions in their chambers -- about 83% for each.

The study is posted at www.cleanupwashington.org/sii.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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