Reading Time: 4 minutes

A California congressman since 1978, Jerry Lewis aims to regain the gavel of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and all the federal budget power that comes with it. Lewis represents California’s 41st District, which stretches from the Nevada border across the Mojave Desert to outer suburbs of Los Angeles. He already served as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee in 2005-06, and currently is the senior Republican on the panel.

But he first faces a few hurdles.

Lewis, 76, will need a waiver from the Republican Steering Committee because of party term-limit rules. And he’ll have to outmaneuver Kentucky’s Hal Rogers for the job, as Lewis did in late 2004. When the two veteran politicians clashed at that time, Lewis reportedly won support from colleagues by making large campaign contributions. In this election, Lewis raised about $1 million to help the campaigns of other House Republicans, according to The Washington Times.

During his long tenure in Congress, Lewis has become adept at the earmarking process, securing almost $325 million in earmark funding between 2008 and 2010, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Early this year, he backed Republican leaders’ one-year moratorium on earmarks, but it remains unclear whether that ban will continue.

Lewis came under scrutiny from the Justice Department in 2006 after Randy “Duke” Cunningham, also a California Republican, went to jail for accepting $2.4 million in bribes. The investigation was touched off by his relationship with former Congressman Bill Lowery, who became a partner with the lobbying group Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White and hired two of Lewis’s long-time staffers. Their clients continue to receive many of Lewis’ larger earmarks.

Lewis denied doing anything improper, and has not been charged.

From 1999 until 2005, Lewis served as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, the panel with jurisdiction over military spending, where he led an early effort to eliminate funding for the Air Force’s F-22 jet and shepherded increasingly controversial spending for the war in Iraq. Lewis has championed funds for unmanned aircraft or drones, which the Pentagon is using in greater numbers for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His chief of staff, Arlene Willis, is also his wife.

Top PAC Contributors

  • Boeing, a major defense contractor — at least $40,000
  • Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a major defense contractor — at least $40,000
  • Raytheon Co., a major defense contractor — at least $37,500
  • National Association of Realtors, group representing 1.2 million real estate agents — at least $33,000
  • General Dynamics, a major defense contractor — at least $31,000
  • PACs gave at least $1 million to his campaign account and his Future Leaders leadership PAC. Lewis received over $500,000 more in contributions from PACs than from individuals

Revolving Door


  • Between 2008 and 2010, Lewis secured almost $325 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • In 2008 he won $9 million for Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) and $5 million for the Loma Linda Medical Center. Both ESRI and the city of Loma Linda had hired Letitia Hoadley White, his former aide, as a lobbyist
  • In 2009, Lewis secured $10 million for the Center for Innovative Geospatial Technology in his district
  • In 2010, he obtained $10.2 million for ESRI and $10.4 million for Loma Linda Medical Center

Stimulus Letters

  • Lewis voted against the 2009 stimulus bill, arguing that it “appears to blanket government programs in spending with little thought toward real economic results, job creation, or respect for the taxpayer.” He later wrote a letter to the Transportation Department supporting $365 million in grants for projects in his region

Ethical Issues

  • In 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that federal prosecutors were investigating the relationship between Lewis and lobbyist Bill Lowery, a former California congressman who served on the Appropriations Committee with Lewis. Some of Lowery’s lobbying clients made generous contributions to Lewis’ campaign, and received earmarks from his committee. Lewis has since spent more than $1 million on legal fees, according to the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Some employees later left Lowery’s lobby firm, Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, to found Innovative Federal Strategies, including former Lewis staffer Letitia Hoadley White. Lewis has denied any connection between his earmarks and campaign donations

Campaign Promises

  • In an op-ed for Politico on Oct. 28, Lewis addressed GOP earmark abstinence, saying he intends “to continue to support the Republican leadership and the conference in decisions to leave the current moratorium in place moving forward”
  • One month earlier, he defended earmarks to the Wall Street Journal, saying, “I think that members have the right to represent their constituents, and know better than the bureaucracy does on what the real priorities are for taxpayers’ money”
  • Lewis praised the House GOP “Pledge to America,” calling it an important first step to eliminate federal deficits and adding that “over the last several years, non-defense, discretionary spending has blown out of control”

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.