The House ethics committee has approved a $2 million payout a former lobbyist got from the firm he left to join the House Appropriations Committee. Federal authorities are investigating the lobbying firm's ties to the appropriations chairman, Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis of California.

Government watchdog groups have criticized the payments because the firm, which specializes in helping clients that want federal funding for projects, frequently lobbies the Appropriations Committee.

Jeff Shockey received $1.96 million in severance payments when he left Washington-based Copeland, Lowery, Jacquez, Denton & White early last year to become deputy staff director of the Appropriations Committee.

"It appears that the terms of your buyout agreement are consistent with applicable laws and House rules, and we have determined to conclude our review without taking further action in this matter," Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Howard Berman, D-Calif., wrote to Shockey in a Sept. 15 letter. They are the Republican chairman and top Democrat, respectively, of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

However, the lawmakers warned Shockey not to get involved in official actions on matters that may affect the interests of his former firm, in order to avoid "any appearance that your buyout payment may influence your official duties."

The letter was released Thursday by Shockey advisers, who pointed out that Shockey already has recused himself from dealing with any Copeland, Lowery clients.

"I would liken this suggestion to telling a triathlete they need to get more exercise," said spokesman Trent Duffy.

Copeland, Lowery, which has split into two entities amid media scrutiny, employs one of Lewis' close friends, former California Republican Rep. Bill Lowery. Ties between Lewis and the firm are under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles with prosecutors focusing on "earmarking," where lawmakers insert spending for specific projects into legislation.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed Copeland, Lowery clients in Lewis' inland Southern California district seeking information on why they hired the firm and communications with the firm and Lewis. Copeland, Lowery clients have received valuable earmarks from Lewis' committee, and the firm and its clients have been generous donors to Lewis and his campaign committees.

Shockey's attorney, William Farah, said Shockey has not been contacted by prosecutors in the investigation.

Shockey's wife, Alex Shockey, still works for Copeland, Lowery as a subcontractor.

The ethics committee letter focused on a portion of Shockey's payout that was based on revenue he would have brought in had he stayed with the firm.

The calculations weren't finalized until about six months after Shockey left Copeland, Lowery, the committee noted. That raised the possibility that Shockey's severance payment was partly based on revenue Copeland, Lowery brought in while Shockey was already working for the Appropriations Committee, which could have violated federal law.

But Shockey provided the committee with documentation to show that the payout amount was principally calculated at the time he left the firm in January 2005.

In future cases, the committee said it would recommend that the buyout amount be finalized when the employee leaves "rather than ambiguously defined, in the hope that concerns about the propriety of such payments will not arise."