Hill ties reap rewards for top defense firms

Letitia White, former defense appropriations staff member for Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), is known on the Hill and in industry circles as the golden girl of earmarks.

It is those earmarks and the hefty price paid for them — in campaign contributions and lobbying fees — that have spurred federal investigators to look into the connection between White, now a partner at the firm of Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White; Jeff Shockey, a former lobbyist at the firm and one of Lewis’s top committee staff members; and Lewis, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.), Lewis’s longtime friend, is also a founding partner of Copeland Lowery.

The probe, which grew out of the investigation into former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) that led to his resignation from Congress and his imprisonment, has prompted increased scrutiny of the defense-contracting business.

But the defense-contracting lobbying business has been a lucrative part of the K Street community for years, lawfully helping sell defense industry products to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.

While Copeland Lowery targeted all appropriations bills, not just defense, there are several lobby shops that specialize almost solely in defense. They provide what Washington insiders argue is a necessary service.

Here is a look at the top defense-contracting lobbying firms and their connections to Congress and the Pentagon:

In 2006 alone, the PMA Group accounted for at least 60 earmarks in the conference report of the defense spending bill, according to data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog organization tracking earmarks in bills. That amounted to roughly $95.1 million, according to an analysis of that data.

Determining exactly how many earmarks a certain firm has secured is difficult because that information is not publicly available and defense companies often hire several lobbying firms to represent them.

Paul Magliocchetti, a nine-year veteran of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, is the founder of the PMA Group. Out of its team of 35 lobbyists, at least 30 have worked on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon or both.

One member of the team, Richard Kaelin, was the chief of staff to longtime House Appropriations Committee member Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.).

Kaelin also served as the lawmaker’s appropriations director, focusing on national security, energy and water development. That position “allowed him to develop keen negotiating skills essential to protecting multimillion-dollar projects and programs of national significance,” according to his company bio.

Another, Melissa Koloszar, was chief of staff to Rep. Jim MoranJames (Jim) Patrick MoranStates are stepping up to end animal testing in cosmetics while federal legislation stalls Lawmakers, media serve up laughs at annual 'Will on the Hill' Dems face close polls in must-win Virginia MORE (D-Va.), also a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. For five years Koloszar also served as Moran’s legislative director. As an associate staff member on the Appropriations Committee, she was the primary contact to the defense subcommittee.

And if Moran ever becomes a chairman of a spending panel, PMA could be in luck. The lawmaker said Tuesday that if he were a chairman of a spending panel he would “earmark the [expletive] out of it.”

PMA’s Dan Cunningham has a close relationship with subcommittee ranking member Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), according to K Street sources.

Cunningham also served as the director and deputy director for the Army’s congressional liaison team. He directed the legislative strategy for presenting the Army’s budget for military pay, operations and maintenance, military construction, acquisition, and research and development, according to his bio.

PMA is also a heavyweight when it comes to political contributions.

For the 2006 cycle alone, PMA’s PAC doled out more than $250,000 to federal candidates. Since 2000, the PAC contributed close to $1 million to members of the House and the Senate, focusing on GOP and Democratic members of the authorization and appropriations committees.

With its 139 clients, the firm ranked as No. 10, with revenue of $7.8 million in 2005, on a list of the most profitable lobbying firms compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.

American Defense International (ADI), with 105 clients, mostly defense and technology, was able to secure at least 32 earmarks for its clients in the 2006 defense spending bill, according to data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

ADI also has attracted an all-star cast. The chairman, Van Hipp Jr., headed the South Carolina Republican Party in 1988. He was deputy assistant secretary of the Army for reserve forces and mobilization and was appointed by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as the principal deputy general counsel of the Navy.

John Barth, meanwhile, was chosen to serve as the secretary of the Navy’s personal liaison to the House and Senate Appropriations committees for all Marine Corps matters.

Michael Khatchadurian served on the House Armed Services Committee, was military legislative assistant for Reps. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) and Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), who was then a member of the House Armed Services Committee and is now a member of the Appropriations Committee. After leaving Congress, he worked in the public-affairs office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) serves as ADI’s senior national-security adviser.

ADI’s president, Michael Herson, also has experience at the Pentagon. During Cheney’s tenure there, Herson was the special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for force management and personnel. After that, Herson joined the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution as a visiting fellow for national-security affairs.

“It is important to be a good practitioner with what you do,” Herson said. “You have to have a story to tell, have all the forms filled out and all the material that the staff needs. It is more about relationships, and you can establish those by being well-prepared and having a good story to tell.”

Several media reports have noted that Herson is married to a legislative assistant to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). She works part time for Specter and does not handle appropriations matters.

It has also been reported that ADI does not take clients into Specter’s office.

ADI’s total earmarks for the 2006 Pentagon budget amount to at least  $81 million.

ADI employees also donate mightily to the political process. For the 2002, 2004 and 2006 cycles, they contributed a total of $284,000.

ADI was ranks No. 29 with revenue of $3.9 million in PoliticalMoneyLine’s list of top lobbying firms.

Meanwhile, Letitia White’s firm, Copeland Lowery, with its 105 clients, ranks No. 32 with revenue of $3.7 million.

While PMA, ADI and Copeland Lowery have a large number of defense clients, other smaller, well-connected and successful shops that focus almost exclusively on defense issues are also major players.

One of them is Robison International, which is run by retired Maj. Gen. Randall West. Robison International is a steady contributor to Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.)

Ervin Technical Associates is yet another powerful force in the defense lobbying world. Founding partner Jim Ervin’s experience includes program management and international sales with the Air Force. He also served as a congressional liaison.