Sunday, June 18, 2006

Relative of Hill Panel Chairman Scrutinized; Firm Has Business Before Committee
Relative of Hill Panel Chairman Scrutinized
Firm Has Business Before Committee
By Charles R. Babcock
Washington Post Staff Writer

A stepdaughter of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has a second Washington job, working for a lobbyist who has business before the committee.

Julia Willis-Leon, who lives in Las Vegas, is a "strategic partner" in Potomac Partners DC LLC, President Richard Alcalde said in a recent interview. Alcalde said he has paid Willis-Leon $40,000 to $50,000 over the last year for advice on several clients.

News accounts disclosed recently that Willis-Leon was paid more than $40,000 by a political action committee operating out of a Capitol Hill townhouse half-owned by Letitia White, a former Lewis staff aide-turned-lobbyist. Willis-Leon's fees as PAC director were considerably higher than the PAC gave in donations to federal candidates.

Steven C. Tabackman, a Washington lawyer representing Willis-Leon, said last night that his client has a background in event planning and met the PAC leaders and Alcalde through earlier contacts, including White. That led to work with groups representing alternative fuel users and charter schools. She also has worked part time for General Atomics, a Southern California defense contractor, including on the magnetic levitation issue where she met Alcalde, he said.

Tabackman and Alcalde both said Willis-Leon does no lobbying in her Washington work.

Six of Alcalde's 13 clients have business before the Appropriations Committee, according to reports of his lobbying activity. Lewis had "nothing whatsoever" to do with his decision to hire Willis-Leon, Alcalde said, adding that he did not hire her in hopes of currying favor with the committee chairman.

"I'm not trying to get a racer's edge with the Lewises by her working here, because it wouldn't do any good. They aren't those kind of people."

Alcalde said he met Willis-Leon about a year ago when they were working for American Magline Group, private companies seeking federal funding for high-speed train service from Las Vegas to Anaheim, Calif. "Julie did some great work on the ground in Las Vegas, like with the mayor's office," he said. He noted that the Magline Group sought funding from the Transportation Committee, not Lewis's committee.

"You won't meet a more honorable person," Alcalde said of Willis-Leon.

Alcalde's clients include casinos, Indian tribes and public entities.

Lewis and his relationship to a Washington lobbying firm, Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, are being investigated by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles who have been subpoenaing its clients. Lewis has denied wrongdoing. Copeland Lowery has said its lobbying is "consistent with the laws, rules and regulations that govern" the practice.