WASHINGTON – Two defense contractors at the center of ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's bribery case also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to curry favor with other influential lawmakers, records show.
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One contractor, Brent Wilkes, provided private jet flights to lawmakers, including Reps. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is serving as majority leader while DeLay fights money-laundering charges in Texas.
There's no indication that these donations were improper. Prosecutors have not suggested that the investigation that snared Cunningham, R-Calif. — who resigned last week after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes — involves other lawmakers.
Wilkes and defense contractor Mitchell Wade, along with their families and companies, donated generously to dozens of political campaigns — mostly Republican — beginning in the 1990s. Among the top beneficiaries, according to an AP analysis of records from PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign spending, were:
—DeLay, who got $70,000 from Wilkes and his associates.
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—House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who got $46,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates.
—House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who got about $50,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates.
—Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., a member of the House Appropriations Committee, who got about $46,000 from Wilkes and his associates.
The contractors' 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 lawmakers who took money also includes Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla.; Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va.; Rep. 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.
Hunter, Lewis, Harris and Hoekstra have donated the money to charity, or plan to. Craig, Mollohan, DeLay and Doolittle have said they will hang on to it. As of Thursday, Goode had not decided, an aide said.
"I just think it was the appropriate thing to do," said Hunter, who is giving the money to help injured Marines. He also released two letters Thursday that he sent Pentagon officials in 1997 and 2000 urging them to use their judgment on pursuing projects to convert paper documents to digital form — the specialty of Wilkes' company ADCS Inc., which has its headquarters in Hunter's San Diego-area district.
Published reports have said Cunningham and Hunter promoted such programs in the face of Pentagon opposition.
Neither Wilkes nor Wade is named in Cunningham's plea deal, in which he admits taking cash and gifts including antiques and a Rolls-Royce.
The plea mentions four unnamed coconspirators, who have not been charged. Details make clear that coconspirator .2 is Wade; Wilkes' lawyer, Michael Lipman, has confirmed that Wilkes is coconspirator .1.
Wade's lawyer declined comment Thursday; a message left with Lipman was not immediately returned.
Wilkes and his wife and companies donated heavily to Schwarzenegger; the governor subsequently appointed him to a state fair board and a board that oversees racetrack issues. Wilkes resigned those positions last week at the suggestion of Schwarzenegger's office.
Wilkes' donations to DeLay included $15,000 from one of his companies to Texans for a Republican Majority, the state committee whose spending is at issue in DeLay's criminal case. Wilkes' company also hired Alexander Strategies, a consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife, Christine.
Wilkes' private jet company, Group W Transportation, provided flights to DeLay three times and Blunt twice. In each case the lawmakers reimbursed Group W as required, records show.
Sometimes donations from Wade or Wilkes came around the same time their companies were getting contracts or lawmakers were passing favorable legislation.
Wade's company, MZM, got a five-year blanket purchase agreement contract from the General Services Administration that went into effect May 13, 2002. On May 15, 2002, MZM donated $1,000 to Cunningham.
Wilkes and his associates increased their political donations to the tens-of-thousands-per-year level about 1996. In 1996, 1997 and 1998 lawmakers earmarked money for document conversion programs even though none was requested in the president's budget, and ADCS got a major contract to digitize documents in the Panama Canal Zone around the time of the canal handover in 1999.