Watchdog group opposes Cunningham's request North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News

By: MARK WALKER - Staff Writer

A group that pushes for improvements in ethical government conduct wants the Federal Election Commission to reject U.S. Rep. Randy Cunningham's request to use campaign money to pay legal bills arising from an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also wants the six-member election commission to postpone any decision until the grand jury that is meeting in San Diego completes its work.

Cunningham wants to use the more than $672,000 donated for what was to have been a 2006 re-election bid to help pay the more than $1 million he expects to incur in legal bills to fight allegations of wrongdoing related to dealings with a defense contractor.

In its letter sent to the commission's Washington office Thursday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics argued that the commission shouldn't take any action until the panel knows if Cunningham will be indicted.

The group also argued that the allegations of potential wrongdoing do not appear related to campaign activities. Because of that, those monies should not be available for his defense, it argues in the letter.

By waiting until the federal probe is done, the commission could determine whether Cunningham's actions involving defense contractor MZM Inc. and its founder, Mitchell J. Wade, "stem from campaign activities or his status as a federal officeholder," the letter states.

The 63-year-old Cunningham, an Escondido Republican, is under scrutiny by the U.S. attorney's office, the FBI, the IRS and the Pentagon's Defense Criminal Investigative Service over dealings with Wade.

Cunningham sold his Del Mar Heights home to Wade in late 2003 without listing the residence for sale. Wade paid Cunningham $1.675 million, and then sold the home 11 months later for $700,000 less than he paid the 50th District congressman.

While in Washington, Cunningham also stayed aboard a 42-foot boat named the "Duke-Stir" ---- what the name means is not clear ---- owned by Wade, starting in April 2004 and continuing until this spring. In the same time period, MZM reported a tripling of its revenues from Defense Department contracts.

The grand jury is believed to be examining whether Cunningham improperly influenced the awarding of contracts to MZM through his position on the House Appropriations Committee and that panel's Defense Subcommittee.

Cunningham has denied any wrongdoing, but has acknowledged "poor judgment" in selling his home to Wade. Cunningham described Wade as a personal friend.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, said Thursday she isn't optimistic about the commission agreeing with her group's request.

"The odds are pretty high," said Sloan, whose organization maintains it is nonpartisan and works on ethics issues involving Democrats as well as Republicans. "The commission has allowed use of campaign funds in past cases, and that shows there is a problem with the law."

The commission will not comment on pending cases. An agency spokesman said this week that the panel will rule on Cunningham's request by early October.

Campaign donors have been told that Cunningham will give their money to the National Republican Congressional Committee if they object to its being spent on the lawmaker's defense.

The attorneys he hired in June are expected to cost up to $1.5 million, according to Harmony Allen, chief of staff in Cunningham's Washington office.


Post a Comment

<< Home