WASHINGTON – Some congressional Republicans, seeking to distance themselves from former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, are donating to charity political money that he gave them over the years.
Cunningham, who pleaded guilty Monday to taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for steering government work to defense contractors, had given colleagues money from his campaign account and a political action committee he created, the American Prosperity PAC.
Since the California Republican's plea, more than a dozen GOP lawmakers and candidates have donated the money to charity or disclosed plans to do so.
Among them are Reps. Richard Pombo of California, Jim Nussle of Iowa, Heather Wilson of New Mexico and Charles Dent of Pennsylvania; Sen. John Thune of South Dakota; Minnesota Senate candidate and Rep. Mark Kennedy; and Oregon congressional candidate Jim Feldkamp.
Some of the lawmakers were facing calls from home-state opponents or opposition parties to get rid of the political money from Cunningham.
The fundraising committee for House Democrats sent out press releases Thursday targeting each of the approximate 60 incumbent Republicans who benefited from Cunningham's money over the years and demanding that they give it back.
"Duke Cunningham's actions were criminal and inexcusable," Dent said in announcing he planned to give $1,000 he got last year from Cunningham's PAC to a charity in his district. "I would rather see the money go to good use here at home rather than back to the political committee of a disgraced politician."
Since 2000, Cunningham has donated over $250,000 from his PAC to fellow Republicans, according to records compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign donations.
It's common for lawmakers in safe districts, as Cunningham was, to use their campaign funds to boost fellow lawmakers prospects — thereby boosting their own popularity, too.
At least two Republicans said they were hanging onto Cunningham's money — Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., and Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif. Both received $1,000 donations — Harris in 2004, Radanovich in 1994. Aides said the money was legally donated and received, and was spent.
Other lawmakers who have announced they had donated the money or planned to do so were Reps. Mary Bono of California, Jim Gerlach and Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, Rob Simmons of Connecticut, Michael Ferguson of New Jersey, Jon Porter of Nevada, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and John Sullivan of Oklahoma.