Sunday, July 17, 2005

"total crap"

Today's North County Times contains an excellent article about the "web of influence" that defense contractors weave around members of Congress. Of course, the genesis on this article is the eggregious behavior of Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (CA-50th), but as William Finn Bennett details in the thorough article, Cunningham is not alone.

Bennett goes to great lengths to debunk some of the dodges and deflections that Cunningham has used to try and deflect the steady steam of corruption, bribery and influence peddling accusations that forced him to announce his retirement from Congress at the end of his current term.

Bennett points out that despite the substantial power his position and seniority provide him, Cunningham tried to portray himself as powerless:
In Cunningham's case, the congressman and member of the House Appropriations' Defense Subcommittee last month released a statement saying he does "not have the authority or ability to award a contract to Mr. Wade's company and no single Member of Congress, no matter how influential, can dictate to the Armed Services who will be awarded contracts."
Bennett turns to, Winslow Wheeler, a former national security staffer for Republican Senator Pete Domenici to address Cunningham. Wheeler's characterizes Cunningham's contention as "total crap" and adds,
Working with the subcommittee chairman, members then recommend adding projects to the bill. Many of those projects are for defense contractors located in subcommittee members' home districts. In the current defense budget, the cost of those add-on projects has been estimated at between $9 billion and $12 billion, Wheeler said. He added that the amount of add-ons has gone up steadily in recent years. In 2001, the number stood at $4 billion, he said.
And while those recommendations may be rejected by a branch of the military before becoming law, "woe to the military service that doesn't follow that advice," Wheeler said.
Aside from Bennett's article the North County Times dedicates almost its entire Sunday Opinion section to Cunningham and to the cozy relationship between defense contractors and Congress.

In a companion opinion piece to the influence peddling articles, NC Times columnist, John Van Doorn, takes Cunningham to task for going only halfway in his recent public announcement. Van Doorn thinks that Cunningham owes his constituents more.
If there was any surprise at all in the congressman's announcement, it was that in the face of a month of hard questions about his dealings and his pals he took only a half-measure.

Deciding not to run again is a half-measure, a baby-step, from a man who ought to take a full one and resign this very minute, taking his "For Sale" sign with him. He should get out.

Such an act would be a sort of cleansing ritual for his government, his constituents, the air and his soul. Maybe his soul.
Sadly, Cunningham will stay in Congress for the next 18 months freed from any constraints and fully able to find the highest bidder for his lobbying services when his "retirement" begins.