The Million-Dollar House on the Hill

Let's hope no rock is left unturned by federal investigators looking into the shady Congressional art of winning friends and dishing "earmarks" the lucrative favors that lawmakers secretly cram into spending bills at the behest of deep-pocketed contractors. Former Representative Randy Cunningham massaged earmark abuses into a prison term for bribery. And now investigators are focusing on the office of one of Congress's budgetary potentates Representative Jerry Lewis, the California Republican who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which writes the major spending bills.

Mr. Lewis denies any wrongdoing, as does his former staff aide and earmarks maestro, Letitia White. Ms. White honed the process well enough to become a high-powered lobbyist dubbed "queen of earmarks" for her continuing knack for attaching special-interest contracts to spending bills written in her former boss's committee.

As a Capitol Hill staffer, Ms. White helped direct hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to clients of the lobbying firm that she eventually joined, and where she has lately been making more than $3 million a year. Investigators suspect there's been a tidy taxpayer money churn in which Mr. Lewis may have traded earmarks for political campaign donations from defense contractors and lobbyists enjoying the inside track. Illegal or not, the facts of money-greased politics slowly emerging deserve full attention from voters who fantasize that lawmakers are battling nobly for lobby-bereft little people.

In her first year in the private sector, Ms. White bought a Capitol Hill house for $1 million cash, according to the Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, and half of the cost turned out to be paid by a defense contractor who reaps millions in earmarks via the lobbying firm. The house, in turn, became the locus for a fund-raising organization founded by the defense contractor, who like Ms. White's lobbying firm is a leading donor to Mr. Lewis's campaign kitty.

If this circle of insider back-scratching is not dizzying enough, it should be noted that Congressman Lewis's stepdaughter was hired to direct the fund-raising shop at the million-dollar house.

Thus goes business as usual on the Hill, where lawmakers refuse to properly police themselves but have the gall to rail at criminal prosecutors showing up on behalf of the public. The earmark cornucopia shows how the fear of President Dwight Eisenhower 45 years ago about the rise of the military-industrial complex was dead-on prophecy: "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."