Cunningscam: Much More Than Meets The Eye

Abramoff isn’t the only mega-scandal that could rock Washington this year. Two powerful committee chairmen in the House could soon find themselves ensarled in the scandal that has already taken down former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

Cunningham pled guilty “to taking more than $2 million in bribes in a criminal conspiracy involving at least three defense contractors.” Cunningham resigned from Congress but this mess is far from over.

Cunningham received $630,000 from a military contractor named Brent Wilkes, who is referred to as “co-conspirator No. 1” in Justice Department documents. Wilkes worked for Audre Inc., a job he took in 1992 when the company was near bankruptcy and desperate for federal contracts. That’s where Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, comes in. The San Diego Union Tribune is on the case:

Cunningham and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, worked closely with two local companies – ADCS Inc. of Poway and Audre Inc. of Rancho Bernardo – to make the Pentagon pay for converting printed documents to computer files. They and a few other lawmakers got Congress to allocate $190 million for “automated data conversion” projects from 1993 to 2001.

Did the Pentagon want this “help”? No. As a 1994 General Accounting Office report noted, it already had the tools for such work.

But Cunningham, Hunter and their House allies didn’t care. Audre and ADCS were generous with contributions – and ADCS executive Brent Wilkes allegedly was bribing Cunningham…This led to such absurdities as a $9.7 million contract for ADCS to digitize historical documents from the Panama Canal Zone that the Pentagon considered insignificant. This isn’t governance. This is looting.

But Hunter isn’t the only committee chairman with problems. Wilkes employed a lobbyist named Bill Lowery who is unusually close with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis. Copley News Service conducted a three month investigation of their relationship:

From powerful positions on the House Appropriations Committee, California Rep. Jerry Lewis has greenlighted hundreds of millions of dollars in federal projects for clients of one of his closest friends, lobbyist and former state Congressman Bill Lowery.

Meanwhile, Lowery, the partners at his firm and their clients have donated 37 percent of the $1.3 million that Lewis’ political action committee received in the past six years…

The Lewis-Lowery relationship, however, is remarkable for the closeness and mutual dependence…They’ve even exchanged two key staff members, making their offices so intermingled that they seem to be extensions of each other.

Remember, the Department of Justice made a plea deal with Jack Abramoff to get incriminating information on members of Congress. Why did they make a deal with a member of Congress, Duke Cunningham? It’s likely that there are bigger fish to fry.