The San Diego State University Research Foundation has parted company with the firm of ex–GOP congressman Bill Lowery, its longtime lobbyist, who is currently under scrutiny by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for his role in obtaining congressional earmarks for defense contractor Brent Wilkes, convicted in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham bribery case. The ongoing investigation reportedly centers on allegations that Lowery funneled campaign contributions to his friend and former colleague, Republican congressman Jerry Lewis of San Bernardino, in exchange for Lewis’s assistance in earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars for Wilkes and other clients, including the foundation. Both Lowery and Lewis have denied any wrongdoing. Campaign filings show that Lewis has spent a total of $1.27 million on legal fees over the past three years, $105,000 of it in the last quarter of 2007.
The university foundation has faithfully employed Lowery and his firm, which used to be known as Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, for at least a decade, during which time the firm racked up a series of multimillion-dollar federal government earmarks channeled to the foundation.
In January 2006, then-foundation executive director Frea Sladek, who retired in June 2006, sent an email to the board, reassuring them that Lowery had done no wrong. “From time to time I’ve mentioned the Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technology, one of the large SDSURF-administered partnership programs that has been funded through appropriations obtained by our Washington representative, former Congressman Bill Lowery,” Sladek wrote. “You may have seen his and Congressman Jerry Lewis’ names in the U-T recently, noting the close relationship between them and drawing attention to the many appropriations (mainly those in Congressman Lewis’ San Bernardino area) that have been obtained. The articles state there is nothing illegal but do draw attention to the relationships and large amounts of funding. The appropriations we’ve received for CCAT are doing many good things.”
But this past October, acting foundation head Thomas Scott told the board, chaired by SDSU president Stephen Weber, that he and his staff were considering replacing Lowery’s firm or reducing its role, in part because of the brewing scandal. Subsequent foundation conversations about the matter were held behind closed doors, and the organization has made no public announcement of the change, which was revealed in the Lowery firm’s Lobbying Report, filed with the Clerk of the House on February 13.
Now known as Innovative Federal Strategies, LLC, the firm was paid a total of $240,000 by the foundation last year before being terminated on December 31. According to the statement, Lowery and partner Jean Denton lobbied on two Defense Department appropriations bills. One, HR 3222, covered “language training, technology commercialization and DOD (Department of Defense) supply chain enhancement” and the other, HR 1585, “testing of advanced technologies for counter-terrorism applications.” Senate records show that the firm, then known as Copeland, Lowery & Jacquez, had been retained by the foundation since at least 1998, when it was paid $140,000.