North County Times - FEC approves Cunningham request

By: North County Times

The five-member Federal Election Commission voted as expected Thursday and approved U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's request that he be allowed to use campaign funds to pay his lawyers.

The commission action clears the way for Cunningham, R-Escondido, to use more than $650,000 in his campaign account to pay the legal bill he is incurring as he defends himself in the face of an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

Meeting in San Diego since June, the grand jury is probing the eight-term lawmaker's business dealings with two defense contractors.

The U.S. attorney's office has alleged in a civil suit related to the investigation that Cunningham "demanded and received" a bribe from one of the contractors, Mitchell J. Wade, in connection with a home Wade purchased from the congressman in late 2003.

Wade paid $700,000 more for the home than he would sell it for less than a year later.

Cunningham, who will not seek re-election next year, has denied breaking any laws.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct also approved Cunningham's request to establish a legal defense fund separate from the campaign account.

That fund allows contributions of up to $5,000 a year from individuals, corporations and unions. A Cunningham aide has said legal fees could reach or exceed $1.5 million.