Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lobby Firm Disbands Because of Investigation; Some Partners Have Ties to Rep. Lewis
Lobby Firm Disbands Because of Investigation
Some Partners Have Ties to Rep. Lewis
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Washington lobbying firm enmeshed in a federal investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is breaking up because of publicity surrounding the probe, the company said yesterday.

The firm, Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, has been a major player on K Street, particularly in winning narrow appropriations, known as earmarks, for military contractors, municipalities and others. Federal investigators last month subpoenaed many of the firm's clients to learn more about the relationship between Lewis and former representative Bill Lowery (R-Calif.), a partner in the firm since 1993 who is a friend and financial supporter of his.

The company's two Democratic partners, James M. Copeland and Lynnette R. Jacquez, this week told their GOP partners that they were leaving the firm that Copeland helped found in 1992. The reason, they said, was that ethical and legal questions surrounding Lowery and the firm threatened to destroy their professional reputations and ruin their commercial prospects.

The firm's relationship with Lewis is being scrutinized by U.S. prosecutors in Los Angeles. Lewis has denied any wrongdoing, and the firm has said it has complied with all rules and regulations governing its conduct.

Copeland Lowery is the second lobbying firm this year to become a casualty of congressional scandals. In January, Alexander Strategy Group, which was closely tied to former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, went out of business because of publicity about its involvement in the Abramoff investigations. The firm was owned by Edwin A. Buckham, DeLay's former chief of staff.

"Given the current media focus on the firm, Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White has made a strategic and mutually-agreed upon decision to separate its partnership into two groups," the company said in a written statement. "Partners Bill Lowery, Jean Denton, and Letitia White will continue to lead the existing full service consulting firm, while partners James M. Copeland and Lynn Jacquez will form a separate partnership."

In 2005, the firm reportedly grossed more than $7 million, making it one of Washington's top 50 lobbying firms. In addition to the five partners, the company has 14 employees.

The Democrats and the Republicans in the firm operate separately for the most part. The Republicans work on the eighth floor of the downtown District building they occupy, and the Democrats are on the fifth floor.

Several congressional aides who were briefed by the firm's departing Democrats about the breakup said the lobbyists expressed concern that they might lose longtime clients if they continued to be associated with the GOP part of the firm -- the apparent focus of the federal inquiry.

Patrick Dorton, a spokesman for the firm, declined to comment beyond the written statement, and said none of the partners would comment, either.

Authorities last month sought records regarding correspondence among Lewis, his staff and the firm. Lowery and some of his clients have donated heavily to Lewis's campaign committees, and Lewis has been a reliable benefactor of projects for Lowery's clients.

In 2005, those clients included defense heavyweights General Dynamics, Boeing and United Technologies. The firm also represented California localities such as the city of Redlands and San Bernardino County, which are in Lewis's district.

Copeland's personal clients include Alameda County, Pacific Life Insurance Co. and BART, the rapid transit system in the San Francisco area. Jacquez's clients include Merced County and the city of Riverside, Calif.

The firm attracted additional attention this month when it reported that it had paid a former partner, Jeffrey S. Shockey, nearly $2 million last year in a separation agreement when he left to become deputy staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, which Lewis chairs.

Shockey has reported earning $1.5 million in 2003 and $2 million in 2004 as a partner in the firm. The firm projected that Shockey would have earned $3 million in 2005 and based his payout on that estimate.

Researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.