WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee on Thursday cleared a longtime aide to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis of any breach of rules for accepting a nearly $2-million payout from his former lobbying firm.
The aide, Jeffrey Shockey, received $1.96 million in severance payments when he left Washington-based Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White to return to work for Lewis (R-Redlands) as deputy staff director of the Appropriations Committee. Federal investigators are examining the relations between the firm, which specialized in appropriations matters, and Lewis.
Since federal investigators began looking into links among lobbyists, powerful members of Congress and the special appropriations known as earmarks, the firm has received unwanted attention and split into two companies.
Federal investigators have requested information from the firm's clients who have received appropriations earmarks, including several communities in Southern California represented by Shockey.
Ethics Committee staffers were specifically reviewing whether Shockey's 2005 payout from Copeland Lowery might have broken rules that prohibit congressional staff from receiving income earned after becoming federal employees. But Shockey showed the committee documents revealing that his compensation was based on work completed before he returned to Capitol Hill.
"It appears that the terms of your buyout agreement are consistent with applicable laws and House rules," wrote Reps. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village) and Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) the top ranking members of the ethics panel.
A spokesman for Shockey said the congressional aide was pleased by the committee's statement and decision to cease further review of the matter. "Jeff Shockey said all along he wanted to do things by the book," spokesman Trent Duffy said. "Now he welcomes the fact that the official judges agreed" he has done so.
Although Shockey apparently violated no laws or official standards in reporting his compensation, his move from the Capitol to lobbying firm and back to the Capitol remains an example of the "revolving door" in Washington. It also shows the extraordinary amounts of money private interests are willing to pay for help in getting earmarks into appropriations bills.
Defense contractors, universities and municipalities have paid high fees to lobbyists who they believed could help get these spending directives for them. The lobbyists, in turn, often made large campaign contributions to lawmakers such as Lewis who preside over the process.
Shockey, who worked for Lewis in the 1990s as a congressional aide, became one of a category of lobbyists in Washington that specialized in appropriations matters. His former employer is a specialist in earmark lobbying and helped Lewis raise tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.
One of the firm's senior partners was Bill Lowery, a former Southern California congressman and close friend of Lewis.
Shockey's lawyers have said he did nothing wrong and noted that he has not been contacted by federal investigators looking into Lewis and his relationship with the lobbying firm.