Thursday, January 19, 2006

Another Congressman Caught Selling His Vote?

As Matt Kelley reports in USA Today, California Congressman Jerry Lewis received more than $110,000 from Cerebrus, a New York City hedge fund, the day before safely shepherding a defense appropriations bill through the House of Representatives which preserved $160 million in spending for a Navy project in which the firm has a major financial stake.

Cerebrus would later kick in another $20,000 to Lewis' PAC and another $70,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which helped propel Lewis to the Chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee.

In 2003, the year in which Lewis received the Cerebrus contributions, the Navy project in which Cerebrus had a stake was beset by cost overruns and other problems. The problems led to a budget proposal with cost cuts of 10% - $160 million - on the project. $110,000 of Cerebrus contributions later, the defense appropriations bill passed with the entire project budget intact.

Lewis denies any connection between his efforts to maintain funding for the problem-plagued project and the huge financial benefit he received from the hedge fund. His dissociation from reality is not so complete that he believes that the money from Cerebrus to his PAC - which he was able to dole out to campaign cash-needy colleagues - didn't help him win the chairmanship of one of the most powerful committees in . . . well, in the world, really.

Cerebrus, like all hedge funds, represents exclusively wealthy investors and is not subject to all the rules and regulations of most investment firms. The firm, which had never contributed to Lewis prior to 2003, refused comment.

Fittingly, in today's issue, USA Today editorialized in favor of public financing of political campaigns.

In other news, AB 583, a bill providing for public financing of state elections in California, passed through the Assembly Appropriations Committee today. The bill now goes to the Assembly floor, where it must pass by the end of the month or die.

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T Minus 11 Days Until Lay/Skilling Trial

As Reuters reports in the Washington Post, a federal judge in Houston decided several key evidentiary points for the trial of former Enron CEOs/gurus Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, scheduled to begin January 30.

The judge will NOT allow testimony about Ken Lay allegedly covering up an oil trading scandal in 1987, nor will any evidence about Enron's manipulation of the California energy markets in 2000-1 be admitted. The judge ruled the evdience irrelevant to the specific charges against Lay and Skilling.

I'm no legal expert, but if one of the charges against Lay and Skilling is that they covered up Enron's massive account imbalances in an effort to maintain stock price, it sure seems like past cover-ups by either man would be relevant.

The judge also ruled that the defense can't introduce evidence of philandery or the use of drugs or pornogrpahy by the government's witnesses.

The defendants are also still seeking to move the trial from Houston, Enron's hometown, to another city due to what they claim will be their inability to get a fair trial. the judge has so far resisted these efforts.

We'll keep you posted.

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