Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Brent Wilkes' Money Still Good in San Diego

As William Finn Bennett reports in the North County Times, the campaign contributions of one of Duke Cunningham's alleged bribers is still playing a role in San Diego politics.

Earlier this year, Cunningham pleaded guilty to receiving some $2.4 million in bribes from four men in exchange for using his public office to benefit them. One of those men has been identified as Brent Wilkes of Poway, CA, a suburb of San Diego. (Another, Mitch Wade, has pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham and making illegal campaign contributions to Representatives Virgil Goode - VA and Katherine Harris - FL.)

Wilkes owned a number of corporations outright and held a controlling interest in others, including the Wilkes Corporation, ADCS, Group W Travel, Group W Advisors, PerfectWave Technologies, Archer Logistics, and Al Dust Properties. Most of these companies sought defense contracts from the federal government, which is why Wilkes sought help from Cunningham.

To increase his chances of getting government contracts, Wilkes directed more than $1.2 million in political contributions from himself, his employees, and business associates to candidates, parties, and committees at the federal and state level from 1993-2005. Because the contributions stretch over such an extended period, not all of the recipients are still in office.

One such recipient, former California Congressman Brian Bilbray, is running to replace Duke Cunningham, whose seat has been empty since he resigned in November 2005. Bilbray has disgorged $6,000 of the $12,550 (by our count) that he received in Wilkes-related contributions, but not all.

That a past recipient of Wilkes' political contributions is again running for office is neither unique or surprising. Wilkes contributed to a number of state-level candidates in California who were the most likely to succeed local congressman with whom Wilkes already had gold star access, such as Duke Cunningham ($525k in bribes, $106k in campaign contributions), Duncan Hunter ($43k), and Jerry Lewis ($86k).

For example, Cunningham finally resigned, the candidates usually mentioned as possible replacements for Cunningham included Charlene Zettel, George Plescia, Mark Wyland, Bill Morrow, Bilbray, and Howard Kaloogian. All but Kaloogian had received Wilkes-related contributions.

Another example is former California Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who was widely seen as the heir apparent for California Congressman Bill Thomas, currently the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. When Thomas announced his retirement earlier this year, McCarthy announced his candidacy to replace Thomas. McCarthy received $5,000 through Wilkes.

McCarthy's replacement as Minority Leader: George Plescia, who received $19,000 through Wilkes, launched his campaign from Wilkes' headquarters, and married Wilkes' director of government affairs.

In other words, Wilkes was developing a farm team to replace his current stable of members of Congress with whom he had gained access through campaign contributions. Even if these other politicians were not in Wilkes' pocket like Cunningham, the intent behind Wilkes' contributions was the same as it was with the dollars he dished to Duke: to buy access to gain government contracts.

We've called on all recipients of Wilkes-related contributions to disgorge those contributions. Check out our campaign here.

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