The Wrong Stuff

The Wrong Stuff by Marcus Stern, Jerry Kammer, Dean Calbreath, George E. Condon Jr. (about Randy 'Duke' Cunningham) Tonight I went to a booksigning by Marcus Stern, coauthor of The Wrong Stuff—a book about imprisoned Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. It was in a cute independent bookshop "The Book Works" in Del Mar, California.

I take special interest in the book for two reasons: he was my congressman (until a year and a half ago) and 11 years ago I started a website on the corrupt gentleman (Summer 1996). He's always been a kind of "Trailer Trash" of Congress, but well-liked because of his Vietnam war record. It's always been known that he was stupid, made silly remarks, and took in gobs of campaign contributions in exchange for special "earmark" funding to contributing defense contractors. What wasn't known until Marcus Stern and others found out was the direct bribes he also took from defense contractors. In today's muddled thinking it's somehow OK to take bribes as campaign contributions, but wrong as direct bribes. That's the line Duke Cunningham crossed

Here's some notes I took from Marcus Stern's talk:

  • Stern basically stumbled onto the bribe. He was investigating why Cunningham took a trip to Saudi Arabia with some shady characters (the answer is still not known today). He found a suspicious sale of his Del Mar home to a shill corporation owned by a defense contractor that received funding from his appropriations committee. The home was bought for more than it was worth (over $700K) and sold at a loss several months later (at a time when the real estate market was hot in San Diego).
  • Duke Cunningham bribe menu
    Cryptic Bribe Menu
    The "Bribe Menu" was not recognized as such by FBI searching his yacht the "Dukestir" (formerly the "Buoy Toy"). They passed it up twice. Defense contractor Mitch Wade, however, was cooperating with authorities (to save himself) and he or his team recognized the note for what it was--a menu of bribe prices and appropriations.
  • Cunningham at his sentencing said he will atone for life for what he did. A jailer at Butner Federal Prison said Cunningham, shortly after sentencing, really ramrodded everyone for what they did to him and said it was unjust.
  • Marcus stays that San Diego's former U.S. Attorney, Carol Lam, was targeted for firing before the Cunningham scandal. She had little direct role in the investigation. However, the scandal probably fired the final trigger in her leaving
  • Nancy Cunningham, his wife, thinks Bush will pardon Cunningham (I personally doubt this though)
  • Congressional Democrats talked tough during the last (2006) campaign and during swearing-in, but are not really interested in reforming earmark-abuse. They like to use it for themselves: trading earmarked appropriations for campaign contributions. An example is California Senator Feinsteins's self-dealing earmarks with her husband's company. A story on this is in the works—stay tuned.
  • Marcus said earmarks (disguised Congressional appropriations directed to a specific company) are still needed by both Demoratic and Republican Members of Congress—they need it to run their expensive campaigns. Congressmembers in safe seats give contributions to others to become more-powerful committee chairs.
  • Apparently court documents have just been unsealed about Cunningham contributor (sugar daddy) Kontogiannis, so two of the co-authors couldn't make the book signing
  • Note by Marcus Stern
  • Marcus signed by book and said my website, http://dukecunningham.org/ was more useful than the Wikipedia article and he used it all the time.
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