February 22, 2006
Ex-congressman’s ‘bribe menu’ outrages Ohioans
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON - Ohio lawmakers, still in their districts for the Presidents Day holiday, reacted with outrage to revelations about a “bribe menu” contrived by disgraced former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
As revealed during the weekend, the former California congressman wrote on his official congressional stationery the amount of bribes he required to deliver government contracts of various amounts.
“I think it was outrageous what he was doing,” said Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, who knew Cunningham while he served on an appropriations panel that Regula chairs. “It was pure bribery, pure. And it wasn’t a single incident. It was a pattern.”
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, also condemned Cunningham’s actions.
But Ney, who is under investigation for his role in a separate lobbyists’ corruption scheme, argued that Cunningham’s crimes are not the result of a “broken legislative system” or the congressional practice of “earmarking” federal funds for narrowly drawn projects that benefit local communities and organizations.
“His criminal actions should not be seen as a condemnation of the earmarking process,” Ney said in written answers to questions submitted to him.
“If federal funding decisions were left solely to the bureaucrats, Tuscarawas County would not be receiving $7.1 million for transportation projects, it would not be receiving $600,000 to strengthen the Dover Dam, and it would not be receiving $100,000 towards the construction of its new technology park,” he said.
Ney has not been charged in the federal investigation, and he insists he is innocent of wrongdoing.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, said of Cunningham.
“This sanctimonious guy was just so judgmental and he just dripped with his concern for our troops,” he said. “This guy just makes you almost want to vomit to hear that, knowing how he tried to represent himself as this virtuous guy who was so much morally superior to anyone who would question the war” in Iraq.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, the successor to disgraced former Rep. James Traficant, had a similar reaction.
“What Traficant did was wrong, and he was taking kickbacks of a couple of thousand a month from a couple of his top staffers,” Ryan said of the convicted former lawmaker. Traficant is serving prison time after his 2002 conviction for bribery and other offenses.
But that “in no way, shape or form gets you to” the millions of dollars that Cunningham took in bribes, Ryan said.
Regula said he never had a hint that Cunningham was corrupt. But it was obvious that the former Vietnam War ace fighter pilot relished the attention he received as a “top gun,” he added.
“He was a good subcommittee member,” said Regula, who chairs an appropriations subcommittee that allocates federal tax dollars to schools, medical research and job training programs. “I had no problem with him. He never asked for any excessive earmarks.”
Regula said he never was questioned by federal investigators who were investigating Cunningham, who steered tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts in return for at least $2.4 million in bribes.
Area lawmakers said they favor some added disclosure requirements and restrictions to check lobbyist influence and prevent the abuse of earmarks. But they are skeptical about their ability to prevent another Cunningham-like episode. And in most cases, they were vague about what reforms they support.
“What’s happened here in my judgment is not the result of rules or laws that are in place or not in place,” said Strickland, who is running for governor. “This is a corrupt person, apparently. And I don’t care what changes are made. Someone who has a propensity to violate the public trust, acting as Duke Cunningham acted, is not going to be constrained by rules and regulations.”
DEFENDING THE SYSTEM
Regula, Ryan and Ney in particular defend the congressional prerogative to seek spending projects for their districts.
“I don’t think we should abolish them,” Regula said. “I think there’s a place for earmarks to do a lot of very constructive things, and I think members know better than bureaucrats as to what’s going to get results in their communities.”
“Like anything else, they (earmarks) can be abused,” Ryan said. “Duke abused it, and Duke’s going to go to prison. So there’s a system in place to deal with people who are benefiting personally from the earmarks.”
Regula’s prescription for earmark reform is to identify lawmaker sponsors of earmarked projects in legislation, and bar projects from being put into bills at the last minute when they receive little if any review.
He also favors banning corporate-paid travel for lawmakers, though he supports allowing nonprofit organizations to continue to finance “educational” trips for members of Congress.