Federal laws governing conflicts-of-interest for legislative branch staffers set a clear threshold for who will be affected by the one-year ban on lobbying, placing the prohibition on any Congressional staffer who earns salary equal to or above 75 percent of a Member’s salary. In 2002, Members earned $150,000, making the 75 percent mark $112,500 for those facing the cooling-off period.
White had made more than that level in both 2000 and 2001, nearly $118,000 and $125,000, respectively, collecting the lion’s share of her salary from the Appropriations Committee and a chunk from the personal office. But her total salary in 2002 plunged to slightly more than $113,000 in total.
While her yearly total was above the $112,500 mark, Dorton explained that White’s salary drop took place in February 2002. The previous month she had been earning a monthly rate that would have yielded $125,078 and prohibited her from immediately lobbying Lewis and the entire Appropriations Committee.
But in February 2002, and for her remaining months on staff, White was paid at a monthly rate that would have resulted in $112,420 in yearly salaries from Appropriations and the personal office, Dorton said.
Federal laws require a staffer to be paid above that 75 percent mark for 60 days or more in the year before they leave Capitol, and White was above the cooling-off level for just one month. That made it legal for White to lobby Lewis and the entire Appropriations Committee immediately because she was paid $80 less than that yearly rate over her final 11 months.
White took advantage of the manuever and immediately became a big-time lobbyist for defense contractors who needed the help of Lewis and his subcommittee.
She left Capitol Hill on Jan. 8, 2003, according to her last financial disclosure form, and, on the very next day, joined Copeland Lowery as a lobbyist. According to lobbying registration forms, she signed on two contractors, General Atomics and an aeronautical subsidiary of GA, on her first day of work.
On March 29, 2002, White and her husband went on a nearly $9,000, nine-day trip to Italy paid for by General Atomics. House travel records show that one of the purposes of the visit was to examine the contractor’s equipment manufacturing site in Italy.
And in her final year on Lewis’ staff, General Atomics was also a big winner of earmarks from the Defense subcommittee: The contractor took in $6.1 million in two separate earmarks from the fiscal 2003 appropriation, according to a review of the Defense bill by Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.
One of the earmarks, for $3.5 million, was for a program to help protect the Statue of Liberty from terrorist threats. In the spring of 2003, when White was lobbying for General Atomics, the company paid for Lewis and his wife to visit Liberty Island in the Hudson River.
Another one of her earliest clients, Trident Systems, also received a big line-item in White’s final year overseeing earmarks for the subcommittee, $8 million for technology to survey battlefields, according to Ashdown.
Dorton said that at some unspecified point in 2002, White asked the ethics committee how she should proceed in her search for outside employment, receiving a letter explaining the procedures. “She recused herself from any official activity that involved a prospective employer or client,” he said.