Dateline Alabama | FEC: Cunningham may use campaign money for legal fees

The Associated Press

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham may use campaign money to pay his legal fees in a federal bribery investigation, Federal Election Commission staff said Monday.

FEC staff reached the conclusion in a draft advisory opinion that the commission will vote on Thursday. Cunningham, R-Rancho Santa Fe, had requested the commission's advice on whether such use of money in his campaign re-election account was permissible.

The money may be used for legal fees, the draft opinion says, "because the investigation concerns allegations that are directly related to Rep. Cunningham's campaign activities or his duties as a federal officeholder."

Cunningham had more than $650,000 in his main campaign account as of June 30, the end of the most recent reporting period. His campaign has given donors the option of having their checks sent to the National Republican Congressional Committee instead of being used for his legal defense.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether defense contractor Mitchell Wade bribed Cunningham by buying his Del Mar, Calif., home at an inflated price. At around the same time as the house sale, Wade's firm, MZM Inc., was winning valuable defense contracts. Cunningham sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls defense dollars.

Cunningham has announced he won't seek re-election next year but has said he did nothing illegal.

Last week, Cunningham was separately given permission by the House Ethics Committee to set up a different legal defense fund that could accept donations directly.