Cunningham case casts new light on donations

By Erica Werner
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The two defense contractors who allegedly bribed ex-Rep. Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham, R-Escondido, with cash and gifts in exchange for government business spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to curry favor with other key lawmakers, records show.

One of the contractors, Brent Wilkes, provided private jet flights for Reps. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., DeLay's stand-in as majority leader while DeLay fights money-laundering charges in Texas.

Wilkes also became a ``pioneer'' for President Bush by raising $100,000 for his 2004 re-election and donated more than $70,000 to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed him to two state boards. Wilkes resigned from those positions last week at the suggestion of the governor's office, said Margita Thompson, the governor's press secretary.

There is no indication the donations were improper. Prosecutors have not suggested that the investigation that snared Cunningham -- he resigned last week after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes -- involves other lawmakers.

Wilkes and the other defense contractor, Mitchell Wade, along with their families and firms, donated generously to dozens of candidates, mostly Republicans, beginning in the 1990s.

Among the top beneficiaries, according to federal campaign records:

? DeLay, who got about $70,000 from Wilkes and his associates.

? House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, who got about $50,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates.

? Rep. John Doolittle, R-Granite Bay, a member of the Appropriations Committee, who got about $46,000 from Wilkes and his associates.

In addition, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, got about $46,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates, his campaign treasurer said.

Wilkes' and Wade's political activity came as they landed valuable government contracts, drawing the attention of campaign finance watchdog groups.

``There's no question that both Wilkes and Wade were expert at greasing the wheels of the legislative machine,'' said Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. ``They knew who and when to give money to, and it really gave them free rein over taxpayer-funded defense contractors.''

The list of other lawmakers who took money includes Reps. Katherine Harris, R-Fla.; Virgil Goode, R-Va.; Alan Mollohan, D-Va., top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee; House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.; and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Wyo.

Craig, Mollohan, DeLay and Doolittle have said they'll hang on to the money. As of Thursday, Goode hadn't decided what to do, his press secretary said.

Meanwhile, more than a half-dozen of the lawmakers who took money -- including Hunter, Lewis, Hoekstra and Harris -- have announced plans to give it to charities, seeking to distance themselves from the contractors.

Hunter released two letters Thursday that he wrote to Pentagon officials in 1997 and 2000 urging them to use their own judgment on pursuing projects to convert paper documents to digital form -- the specialty of Wilkes' company ADCS, headquartered in Hunter's San Diego-area district.

Neither Wilkes nor Wade is named in Cunningham's plea agreement, in which he admits taking cash and gifts including antiques and a Rolls-Royce.


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