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M a c r o M a y h e M

Friday, August 05, 2005

Cunningham: Politicians' private-jet use raises questions

More poop on Cunningham...

Although members of Congress are permitted to take all-expense-paid travel related to their legislative work, they are required to disclose the trips within 30 days.

Members of Congress cannot take free trips for campaign activities. Campaign laws require candidates to pay the equivalent of first-class commercial air fare when flying aboard corporate jets. However, since private jet travel is far more expensive than commercial air fare, politicians who comply with the law are getting an expensive gift from the company that owns the jet.
Federal Election Commission records show that Cunningham has paid for nine flights aboard Group W's jet since 2001, at a total cost of $15,674. But the FEC records – which only show the dates and amounts of the checks, not the dates or destinations of the flights – do not completely match up with Cunningham's trips. Additionally, there is no record that Cunningham paid for his own food or lodging on the trips.

At the time Cunningham was taking the trips, Wilkes' company, ADCS Inc., was winning multimillion-dollar contracts on projects approved by the House defense appropriations subcommittee, on which Cunningham sits.

ADCS, a private company in Poway that specializes in converting paper records into computer records, has received tens of millions of dollars in military contracts since 1996.

Over the past eight years, the defense appropriations subcommittee has repeatedly added funding for ADCS-related projects to the Defense Department budget, even criticizing the Pentagon for not requesting the money itself.

Wilkes, who also runs Group W Advisors, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, declined to answer phone calls and e-mails seeking comment on the issue.
"The company is donating something of value to a politician – a cheap flight on a charter jet – and it's getting something with potentially even greater value in return: face time with somebody who handles the purse strings of federal budget," he said. "In the end, the money that the company spends on the jet flights is a fraction of the benefits that can come out of it."

However, Cunningham spent the most time of any legislator on Group W's jet.

In August 2003, Cunningham used Group W to fly to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig was holding a golf tournament and fundraising dinner.

Besides Craig's fundraising events, Cunningham's visit to Idaho included a hunting trip that he described as a fundraiser for his own campaign.

According to Cunningham, the hunting trip almost cost him his life.

He and the other hunters used four-wheel, all-terrain vehicles to maneuver through the thick forests of the Rockies. But it was Cunningham's first time on a four-wheeler, and he was not adept at steering. On a tight curve, he lost control. The four-wheeler ran downhill through the underbrush and the left side of Cunningham's chest slammed into a tree.

"I almost got killed on that thing," he said. "I was lucky to walk away."

He ended up missing the golf tournament as he recuperated from his injuries, although he joined Craig for dinner at the country club afterward.

Cunningham's record of campaign expenses – which generally are so meticulous that they include his dues and single dinners at the tony Capitol Hill Club – do not reflect any campaign-related expenses for food or lodging in Idaho. And there is no FEC record of Cunningham paying for a flight to Idaho in the summer of 2003.


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