Building Consensus

Brent Wilkes’ testimony yesterday wasn’t all about Duke. He also spent a bit of time talking about his dealings with other members of Congress.

In Washington, Wilkes said, you’re always better off if you have consensus. If you want something done in Congress, you need to go out and build support. Members of the Appropriations Committee, like Cunningham, were key for earmarks, but they had hundreds of colleagues. “They listen to them,” Wilkes said.

Between 1992-2005, Wilkes said he received probably in excess of 1,000 letters from members of Congress. “We never tried to keep what we were doing on Capitol Hill a secret from anybody,” he said.

On the witness stand, Wilkes identified letters written on his behalf by Ron Dellums, John McCain and Lynn Schenk, a former San Diego representative. Other documents introduced by prosecutors show he flew Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Speaker Denny Hastert on his private plane.

One member in particular with whom Wilkes dealt often was Congressman Jerry Lewis. Like Cunningham, Lewis a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Lewis chaired the Defense Appropriations subcommittee from 1999-2005.

Wilkes said he was introduced to Lewis in the early 1990s by former Rep. Bill Lowery, who showed him how Washington works. Wilkes was then trying to sell software to the military. “He explained to me that the way to meet the demand I had determined there was … was to get an earmark,” Wilkes testified.

Lowery helped him set up a series of meetings with appropriators at the Hyatt Hotel — Wilkes rattled their names off on the witness stand — that resulted in a $14 million earmark. (Wilkes neglected to mention that Lowery’s way often involved the blurring of lines; Wilkes, Lowery, and Lewis all went scuba-diving in Belize in 1993.)

When he was having trouble getting paid for his work in Panama in 1999, Wilkes contacted Lewis’ staffer Jeff Shockey, who dashed off a letter. And a $25 million earmark for a program Wilkes’ company handled was funded in full, Wilkes said, because “the chairman” — Lewis — was a big believer in the program and had been supporting it for years.

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