Democratic congressional hopeful calls for finance reform North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News


MIRA MESA ---- Democratic congressional hopeful and Cardiff School Board member Francine Busby presented a four-point ethics-reform proposal for cleaning up campaign finances in Congress, at a Monday news conference.

The proposal was part of a campaign event and was the latest in a series of Busby's criticisms of alleged ethics violations, including bribery allegations against her former opponent, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Escondido.

A local Republican leader, meanwhile, accused Busby of regurgitating a "spoon-fed" proposal created by the Democratic Party in Washington.

Addressing a group of about 40 supporters at West View Park in San Diego, Busby was joined by former state Sen. Dede Alpert, in making her proposal for legislation she said she hopes to present to Congress if she wins the 50th District seat now held by Cunningham, who has dropped out of the race for his seat amidst allegations that he bribed a Washington contractor.

In the 2004 congressional election, Busby was the Democratic challenger to Cunningham.

Busby said Americans deserve better than having Congressional representatives with too-cozy-for-comfort ties to government contractors and Washington lobbyists.

"This proposal will end those 'sugar daddy' relationships once and for all," Busby said.

Reached by phone Monday, Republican Party of San Diego County Chairman Ron Nehring said it is hypocritical for a Democrat to be pointing fingers at Republicans.

"The same Democratic leadership that gave us Jim Wright and Bill Clinton are now pretending to be experts on ethics," Nehring said.

Busby said her proposal calls for the following:

- Banning all outside personal financial relationships between members of Congress and government contractors.

- Banning members from promoting specific businesses to receive government contracts or regulatory favors.

- The elimination of anonymous appropriations. Under the current system, members are able to earmark certain projects for government funding without clearly identifying the names of the companies receiving the contracts.

- Banning all privately funded congressional travel.

The 50th District covers much of North San Diego County and stretches as far south as Clairemont Mesa and portions of La Jolla. With about 159,000 registered Republicans versus roughly 106,000 registered Democrats, the district has long been considered a safe seat for the GOP.

Busby is hoping to replace Cunningham, who recently announced he would not seek re-election amid a federal grand jury investigation of his financial ties to the founder of Washington defense contractor MZM Inc. At the heart of that investigation are two deals: a 2003 real estate transaction in which Cunningham sold his Del Mar Heights home to MZM founder Mitchell Wade for a price that appeared to be hundreds of thousands of dollars over market value, and Cunningham's rent-free living arrangements aboard a 42-foot Washington yacht owned by Wade that was named the "Duke Stir."

Cunningham has vigorously denied any improprieties, and has acknowledged that he used "poor judgment" in having business dealings with Mitchell, whose company received tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts. The contracts were secured through a defense-related congressional subcommittee on which Cunningham sits.

In July, Cunningham announced that he would not seek re-election, citing the increasing stress the grand jury investigation was taking on his family.

Following that announcement, several local Republicans announced plans to run for that party's nomination to replace the former Vietnam era Navy ace pilot.

Referring to the allegations against Cunningham and the sale of his home to Wade, Busby said that her real estate desires are of a different type.

"The only house I am interested in is the one on the hill with a round dome and that has been for sale for too long," she said. "I am running for Congress to take down that for-sale sign."

Officials with Cunningham's office could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Nehring noted that a campaign finance reform bill was just approved by a Republican Party Congress and President George Bush.

"Democrats could have passed comprehensive finance reform when they had the majority in Congress, (but) they didn't," Nehring said. "It took a Republican Congress and a Republican president to pass (such) reform."