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Monday, November 28, 2005

Congressman Resigns After Pleading Guilty to Taking Bribes From Campaign Donor

Today in federal court in San Diego, California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty to taking bribes from a defense contractor in exchange for help obtaining government defense contracts. Cunningham also pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, and faces up to 10 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, and possible forfeiture of property. A sentencing hearing will take place February 27.

Shortly after his guilty plea, Cunningham resigned from Congress effective immediately. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger now has two weeks to declare Cunnigham's former seat vacant, some four months after which a special election will be held to fill the seat.

The charges stem from Cunningham's relationship with defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who among other gifts bought Cunningham's house for $700,000 more than its worth; bought and maintained the Duke Stir, the yacht Cunningham lived aboard while in D.C.; paid for diamonds and travel expenses for Cunningham's wife; and paid off Cunningham's mortgage.

In exchange for these bribes, Cunningham used his position on a House Appropriations subcommittee for military spending to intervene with the Defense Department on behalf of Wade's defense contracting company.

Cunningham's actions were corrupt, illegal, and one of the most stark variants of our government on the auction block. While similar explicit corruption doubtless proceeds at many levels of government, money spent in a different form poses a far greater threat to democracy in America than that of bribe-prone elected officials.

The reason that elected officials like Cunningham are an increasingly rare breed (despite occasional flare-ups of corruption, greed, and stupidity) is that wealthy interests no longer need to bribe elected officials to promote certain policy decisions or to obtain government contracts. Instead, indulgent campaign laws allow these interests to make excessive contributions to candidates, political parties, and PACs, allowing them to put their desired candidate into office.

There's not much need to bribe elected officials to vote the way they're already going to vote, after all.


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