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Week of 8.25.06

In Depth: Rep. Jerry Lewis

Representative Jerry Lewis Of all the candidates facing ethical questions in the upcoming election, Rep. Jerry Lewis appears to be one of the least concerned about his fate.

Lewis, who is chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and overseas nearly a trillion dollars in federal spending, is running for reelection this fall against Democratic challenger Louie Contreras. Lewis appears confident that he will keep his seat even though he is under investigation by federal prosecutors.

A member of Congress representing the Redlands district of California since 1978, Lewis was named chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for funding all federal programs, in January 2005.

Lewis has not hired a campaign manager, does not have a campaign headquarters, and has no campaign website, according to the Desert Sun. This may be because his opponent has not been able to raise any money against the weighty incumbent. And given a bank balance of about $1.5 million, according to Opensecrets, Lewis seems to have little to be concerned about in terms of campaign finance. He has won at least 60 percent of the vote since his first election.

Some have suggested that Lewis' popularity has much to do with the money he sends back to his constituents in the form of earmarks. Over the years Lewis has inserted hundreds of earmarks - special provisions inserted into legislation which directs money to a particular person or group, often at the request of lobbyists - totaling nearly hundreds of millions of dollars.

Lewis with his dog Bruin, a Bichon Frise-poodle mix
Lewis with his dog Bruin, a Bichon Frise-poodle mix
Lewis is currently under investigation for his close and mutually beneficial relationship with a former colleague and top lobbyist Bill Lowery. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are focusing on Lowery clients who have received tens of millions of dollars for projects in the annual spending bills by committees Lewis chaired in both his current and previous position. Lowery and his associates have been top donors to Lewis' campaigns. Neither men have been charged with any crime and they have denied wrongdoing.

From 1999 to 2005, Lewis was chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the panel with jurisdiction over all national security matters including the entire $416 billion Pentagon budget.

Lewis served from 1994 to 1999 as the chairman of the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies Subcommittee, the panel responsible for funding a number of government agencies, including NASA. He also served as Chairman of the House GOP California delegation from 1996-2001. Lewis worked in the insurance industry before joining the House.

Born in Seattle, Washington Lewis graduated from UCLA in 1956 with a BA in Government. He later received a fellowship in public affairs with the Coro Foundation in San Francisco. Lewis and his wife, Arleen, have seven children.