By Alexander Bolton - 02/02/06 12:00 AM EST
The staff member who tracks defense appropriations for Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is a military officer on the Pentagon’s payroll, an apparent violation of House rules and a possible conflict of interest.
Marine Lt. Col. Carl Kime works as an appropriations associate in Lewis’s personal office, according to his business card. The aide’s service appears to violate two provisions of the House members’ congressional handbook: that detailees are supposed to serve committees for only one year and that they are not allowed to be assigned to members’ personal offices.
Lewis, in an interview, said that Kime is an active Marine officer and a detailee from the Pentagon. Lewis called him “one of the smartest detailees I’ve ever had in my office.”
“He gives me advice and counsel on a whole array of issues as they relate to my committee work,” Lewis said.
When asked about Kime’s specific duties, Lewis said Kime “does a terrific job of assisting me in a variety of ways.”
The Member’s Congressional Handbook issued by the Committee on House Administration defines a detailee as “a non-congressional federal employee assigned to a committee for a period of up to one year.”
The handbook further states that “detailees may not be assigned to a member office” and sites the relevant section of U.S. law: 2 U.S.C., Section 72a(f).
Jim Specht, Lewis’s deputy chief of staff and spokesman, said that Kime remains on the Department of Defense’s payroll but is “detailed to work with the chairman on defense issues.”
Specht explained that Kime “watches over all the defense issues” and that he now serves as Lewis’s liaison to the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which has authority over the annual defense-spending bill.
A review of House disbursement records going back to 2001 does not show Kime on Lewis’s personal-staff payroll. But Kime has worked in Lewis’s office since at least spring 2001, according to a review of old House phone directories. When Kime first joined the office, he was listed as a military fellow, a title he retained in the fall 2001 and summer 2002 directories. However, by the time the spring 2003 directory was published, his title changed to its present form, appropriations associate.
Lewis said that the handbook is wrong and that he knows Kime works for him and not for the Pentagon.
“I’ve seen dozens of members who have detailees and I’ve had several in my office,” Lewis said. “I’ve had military detailees since I’ve been in the Congress, almost every year, and they’ve been responsive to me. I don’t read the handbooks, but I know who they work for and they respond to my interests.”
Longtime observers of defense budgets are calling Kime’s role a significant conflict of interest.
John Isaacs, who has worked on defense issues since the late 1970s and is president of the liberal-leaning Council for a Livable World, said, “If he’s been there five years, it means he’s in an important position. As a military professional, he should not be involved in handing out pork. ... It seems to me there are double, triple conflicts of interest.”
Keith Ashdown, the vice president of policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks federal spending, also called Kime’s role a conflict.
“It definitely is a problem,” Ashdown said. “[Rep.] C.W. Bill Young [R-Fla.] is the [defense] subcommittee chairman, but Lewis is the guy who finalizes all the appropriations bills and controls the process. The military is paying the salary of the gatekeeper of the most powerful appropriator in the universe. I don’t know if it is illegal. It sure should be.”
Lewis disputed their criticism, questioning the political leanings and those who fund Council for a Livable World and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
“I can’t understand why it would be a conflict,” said Lewis, adding that lawmakers don’t listen to only one staffer when making decisions. “I would think [detailees] would be a source of information that could be very valuable to a member.
Other defense experts said Kime’s role also may contribute to the perception that the Marine Corps has greater clout than the other armed services.
“The Marine Corps as an institution for decades has had tremendous advantage over the other services in public relations and other tugs of war,” said Pat Towell, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments who covered defense issues as a reporter on the Hill for 27 years.
Kime’s service also appears to run counter to Department of Defense regulations, specifically department directive 1000.17, issued Feb. 24, 1997.
The directive states that Department of Defense civilian personnel and members of the armed forces serving in the legislative branch “shall be limited to performing duties for a specific duration, in a specific project and as a member of a staff of a committee of the Congress.”
The directive comports with the Congressional Handbook regulation that detailees should be assigned to congressional committees, not to personal offices.
Specht and others familiar with the House Appropriations Committee add that Kime replaced Letitia White in Lewis’s office. White once held the same appropriations associate title as Kime, according to House directories from fall 1999 and summer 2000. White left Lewis’s office to work for the lobbying firm Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White.
Lewis came under media scrutiny at the end of last year because of his close relationship with former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.), a principal at the firm. Last year, Lowery’s firm hired the wife of Jeff Shockey, the deputy staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, and firm members have given Lewis tens of thousands of dollars in political donations, according to a lengthy report by Copley News Service and The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The source explained that the professional staff on the Appropriations Committee typically does not like to handle funding for special pet projects — sometimes derided as pork — because the rationale for them is often political. The source said that many Appropriations subcommittee staffs leave decisionmaking over such projects to the personal staffs of appropriations committee members.
The source added that he considered Kime “pretty influential.”
A House staffer familiar with the appropriations process said, “I would be shocked if [Kime] wasn’t involved in determining the ultimate shape of the defense appropriations bill when Lewis was [Defense] subcommittee chair.”
The staffer said that White, whom Kime replaced, was considered an “institution” in the House. White served more than 20 years for Lewis and was known as his former appropriations gatekeeper.
Lewis acknowledged Kime’s influence in the appropriations process when he thanked him for his work when the House considered the fiscal year 2005 defense appropriations bill in July 2004, when Lewis was the Defense Subcommittee chairman.
“I must thank Carl Kime, of my personal office, who watches this bill for me and does an outstanding job for me,” said Lewis, according to the Congressional Record.