Controversial Boon For D.C. Neighborhood

Barracks Row is a neighborhood right around the corner from the U.S. Capitol.

With trendy art shops and sidewalk cafes, "business is booming." But this successful commercial district is about to get an infusion of your tax dollars, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., has earmarked $500,000 tax dollars for unspecific upgrades — possibly a giant decorative arch, kiosks for merchants and concrete stools.

"And the return on the federal investment is difficult to measure, but it's truly immeasurable in my mind's eye," Lewis said.

Members of Congress usually get earmarks for pet projects back in their districts ... it helps them get re-elected. But Lewis is from California. So why is he being so generous with your tax dollars for a venture in Washington 2,600 miles away?

Tim Phillips, who tracks federal earmarks, thinks he knows the answer.

"What makes this one interesting is the congressman's wife, who is also his chief of staff, owns a million-dollar home just four blocks from the earmark that he is getting," said Phillips, who works for Americans for Prosperity. "Just four blocks away."

Tax records show Mrs. Lewis owns a three-bedroom home valued at $943,000.

And the half million dollars isn't the only pot of public money Barracks Row has gotten.

Since 2004, Lewis has earmarked $2.75 million of your tax dollars to the venture.

With all that money to revitalize, property values have been soaring. That is why Phillips takes issue with the disclosure statement Lewis filed.

"Neither I nor my spouse has any financial interest in this project," he said in a statement.

"Almost any employer in America would see this kind of clear conflict of interest and they'd say, 'pal, you're outta here,'" Phillips said.


But CBS News has found another link between Lewis and Barracks Row: Tip Tipton, property owner and director of the redevelopment project. It turns out he's a top Washington lobbyist, and a longtime Lewis friend and donor.

He says Congressman Lewis only has the national interest at heart.

"It's important that the area surrounding the Capitol look like an area that the United States citizens would be proud to show their neighbors and friends," Tipton, who is no the Barracks Row Board of Directors, said.

Lewis wouldn't talk to us but in a statement said it's "ridiculous" to suggest he supports Barracks Row for any reason other than to help residents and visitors in a once-shabby area.

Hardly shabby now, it'll soon get its latest injection of federal funds thanks to Lewis, which goes to show that if you want taxpayers to upgrade a neighborhood where most of them couldn't afford to buy, it just might help to have connections.
  • Christine Lagorio

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