HELENA – If he’s elected to the U.S. House, Democratic candidate John Lewis said he will put up a firewall to ensure no conflict of interest arises with his wife, Melissa Lewis, who is a registered lobbyist.
"Should John earn the honor to serve Montanans in the U.S. House he will immediately check with the House Ethics Committee and develop the next steps for Melissa's small business accordingly," campaign spokeswoman Kathy Weber said.
Melissa Lewis is not presently registered as a federal lobbyist and won’t register as a federal lobbyist if he is elected to Congress, John Lewis said.
“My wife is not a registered federal lobbyist,” he said. “Her business is solely state-based. Any of her contracts are to do work at the state level and Legislature.”
From 2005 to 2008, Melissa Lewis was a registered federal lobbyist at Patricia Jordan & Associates, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm.
In 2009, Melissa Lewis de-registered as a federal lobbyist since her federal lobbying made up less than 20 percent of her time. Under the Lobbyist Disclosure Act, those who spend 20 percent or less of their time on “lobbying activities” aren’t required to register as federal lobbyists, Weber said.
From 2009 to 2011, Melissa Lewis worked as a government relations consultant in Helena for Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, a multistate engineering and planning firm based in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Since 2011, she has had her own lobbying business in Helena – Melissa Lewis and Associates Government Relations and Consulting – and she is a registered lobbyist with the state of Montana. Besides Lewis as president of the firm, its website lists a legal counsel, who is an attorney with a Helena law firm, a graphic designer and an events coordinator as part of the business. Its website is mlewisassoc.com.
During the 2013 Montana Legislature, Melissa Lewis was registered to lobby for the city of Shelby, Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, ONEOK and CSC Holdings LLC (Cablevision), according to a filing with the state with the state political practices commissioner’s office.
She made a salary of $100,000 in 2013 and $75,000 in 2012, according to John Lewis’ financial disclosure statements filed with the U.S. House.
Lewis said he took similar steps to put up a firewall in the past when he was promoted to be a senior member on U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’ staff. He was appointed as Baucus’ deputy state director in late 2008 and in 2010 moved up to be state director, a post he held until August 2013 when he resigned to explore running for Congress.
“When I was working for Max in a senior position and she went out and started her own business, we agreed you can’t be a federal lobbyist,” Lewis said. “It would not be appropriate.”
John Lewis worked with Jon Selib, then Baucus’ chief of staff, to set up the firewall.
Selib said he consulted with the Senate Ethics Committee and implemented this policy in late 2008: John Lewis was to completely recuse himself from any appropriations decisions involving his wife’s lobbying business, and Melissa Lewis was not to lobby the Baucus office.
“Our standard was going to be greater than anything from the Senate Ethics Committee,” Selib said last week. “Not only do I want to make sure everything was within the ethics rules, I don’t want there to be any perception that he and I were coming close to the rules.”
If Lewis is elected, his wife will be prohibited from making any lobbying contact with members of his congressional staff – if she is a federally registered lobbyist.
That ban is part of the Honest Government and Open Government Act of 2007, passed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, said Craig Holman, a campaign finance and government ethics lobbyist for Public Citizen, a Washington watchdog group.
“If she is genuinely a state lobbyist and not in any way trying to influence anything that Congress does, one doesn’t see a conflict of interest,” Holman said in an interview. “But if she is trying to do business in Washington, but not registered, that same conflict of interest arises.”
Ryan Zinke, Lewis’ Republican opponent, declined to comment for the story.