Jerry Lewis, Master of the Congressional Earmark, Dies at 86

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A almighty legislator, helium became president of the House Appropriations Committee successful 2005 but faced scrutiny from the Justice Department for his ties to a lobbyist.

Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, successful  his bureau   successful  2005, the twelvemonth  helium  became president  of the House Appropriations Committee.
Credit...Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Richard Sandomir

July 22, 2021Updated 6:38 p.m. ET

Jerry Lewis, a almighty House Republican whose largess to his territory successful California established him arsenic a maestro of the earmark but led to an probe of his actions by the Justice Department, died connected July 15 astatine his location successful Redlands, Calif. He was 86.

His lad Dan confirmed the decease but said helium did not cognize the cause.

Mr. Lewis was elected successful 1978 and served 17 presumption successful the House. A blimpish who preferred moving with Democrats to confrontational politics, helium was a large fund-raiser for Republican candidates; his party’s third-ranking member, arsenic league chairman; and, briefly, president of the almighty House Appropriations Committee.

“He represented a benignant of authorities that nary longer dominates the party,” John H. Pitney Jr., an adjutant of Mr. Lewis’s successful the mid-1980s who is present a prof of authorities astatine Claremont McKenna College successful California, said by phone. “He was precise overmuch an state of Bob Michel” — the erstwhile House number person from Illinois — “and ne'er a favourite of the Gingrich faction, which took him down from the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference” successful 1992. (Newt Gingrich, past the House number whip and aboriginal the speaker, supported the palmy candidacy of Dick Armey of Texas implicit Mr. Lewis.)

Mr. Lewis was champion known for sending tremendous sums of wealth backmost to his Southern California territory done the usage of earmarks, provisions successful legislature spending bills that nonstop funds to a circumstantial recipient. He sent tens of millions of dollars to educational, aesculapian and probe institutions, subject installations, a dam connected the Santa Ana River, extended histrion clearing successful the San Bernardino National Forest and different projects.

In 2005, erstwhile helium became president of the Appropriations Committee — aft six years arsenic president of its defence subcommittee — helium told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside astir his ambition for his district.

“My extremity arsenic president is not conscionable to make a immense funnel to San Bernardino and Riverside counties,” helium said. “But I person a feeling we volition successful California negociate to get our share.”

But successful 2006, the Justice Department began an probe into whether Mr. Lewis had improperly steered millions of dollars successful earmarks to clients of a lobbyist, Bill Lowery, a erstwhile Republican congressman from California and an aged friend. Some of the clients donated to Mr. Lewis’s re-election campaign.

Subpoenas were issued seeking details astir however communities and businesses successful Mr. Lewis’s territory had chosen to prosecute Mr. Lowery’s firm, however overmuch they had paid, and the quality of communications betwixt the steadfast and Mr. Lewis.

Four years later, the Justice Department dropped the investigation.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics successful Washington, a watchdog radical that had been captious of Mr. Lewis’s ties to Mr. Lowery, condemned the Justice Department’s decision.

“Exactly what volition a person person to bash for the Department of Justice to beryllium up and instrumentality notice?” Melanie Sloan, past the group’s enforcement director, said successful an interrogation with The Associated Press.

Looking backmost connected the probe successful 2012, soon earlier helium retired from the House, Mr. Lewis told the Southern California nationalist vigor presumption KPCC, “It’ll ever beryllium there, and the world is that we person attempted to beryllium a affirmative interaction successful nationalist service.”

Charles Jeremy Lewis was calved connected Oct. 21, 1934, to Edward and Ruth Lewis successful Seattle and moved with his household to San Bernardino, Calif., arsenic a child. His begetter was a civilian technologist who worked connected the operation of New Deal projects. His parent was a homemaker.

After studying veterinary subject astatine the University of California, Berkeley, Mr. Lewis transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, wherever helium received a bachelor’s grade successful governmental science.

After moving successful the security business, helium served connected the San Bernardino Board of Education and was past elected to the California State Assembly. He served determination for a decade. During his tenure, helium pushed for elector support to marque a newsman shield instrumentality — to support the confidentiality of sources — an amendment to the authorities constitution, and helium wrote authorities that established an aerial contamination power agency successful Southern California.

Once elected to the House, helium was named to the Appropriations Committee successful his 2nd word and became president of the subcommittee that funds the Department of Veterans Affairs, NASA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Four years aboriginal helium took implicit the defence subcommittee. His 2 years arsenic Appropriations Committee president ended successful 2007, aft Democrats won the House majority.

In summation to his lad Dan, Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife, Arlene (Willis) Lewis; a daughter, Jenifer Engler; 2 different sons, Jerry Jr., and Jeff; a stepdaughter, Julie Willis Leon; 2 stepsons, Jimmy and Marty Willis; six grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; and 2 brothers, Ray and John. His matrimony to Sally Lord ended successful divorce.

Having the aforesaid sanction arsenic a celebrated comedian was thing that trailed Mr. Lewis passim his career.

“He had a bully consciousness of humor” astir it, Dan Lewis said. He recalled his begetter campaigning astatine a parade successful Apple Valley, Calif., wherever radical were anxious to spot the funnyman, not the lawmaker. The assemblage mightiness person been disappointed, helium said, but the congressman “wasn’t annoyed.”

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