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You’ve probably heard of Jerry Lewis, the comedian, but you’ve probably not heard of Jerry Lewis, the congressional clown – and the clown is the one who has me in stitches from laughing so hard at his antics!
Lewis is a congress critter from California, and he’s a master of legislative slapstick. In 2003, for example, he pulled a rabbit out of his hat for an investment fund named Cerberus. Back then, Lewis was chairman of the powerful house subcommittee that doles out our tax dollars to various corporations that make weaponry and such under Pentagon contracts. Cerberus had a huge stake in a company that had one of these contracts – and it was not going well, due to cost overruns, delays, and management foul-ups.
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Lewis himself had criticized this contract, and in May of 2003, a move was made to cut $160 million out of its funding. But in June, Lewis suddenly reached into his hat and restored all of the funds. Why? It seems that in that one-month interim, someone from Cerberus had told Lewis that the company wanted to hold a fundraising dinner in New York for his political committee.
Sure enough, on July 7th, Lewis flew to New York, sacked up $110,000, and returned the very next day to get the full house to pass the Pentagon funding bill – including the $160 million that Cerberus wanted.
Lewis, always looking for a laugh line, now says he did nothing wrong: “I’m darn sensitive to make certain we keep arm’s length” on such deals, he deadpanned. Then, honking his clown horn and giving a huge stage wink, Lewis said, “At a [fundraising] meeting, I do not discuss business.” And here’s the line that still has me laughing out loud – Lewis says, “To this day, I don’t know what their interest might be.”
This is Jim Hightower saying… Do you think their “interest” might be to swap $110,000 of their money for $160 million of ours? Stop it, Jerry – you’re killing us!
“The congressman & the hedge fund,” USA Today, January 19, 2006.