San Diego Union Tribune

April 25, 2005

Vargas-Filner squabble over ethics looms in their race

By Dana Wilkie

Family business: Juan Vargas would like you to know that he's not at all happy about the way Bob Filner spends campaign money. In fact, he considers it downright immoral.

In the interest of full disclosure, let us establish that Filner is the Democratic congressman for the southern half of San Diego and that Vargas is the state assemblyman who would like to replace him.

With that context, Vargas expressed outrage when he discovered that Filner's campaign over the years has paid for the political fundraising services of a Washington, D.C.-based company called Campaign Resources, which is run by Filner's wife.

"I don't see how it's legal," sputtered Vargas, the former San Diego city councilman who has had his sights on Congress for more than a dozen years – ever since losing the race for the seat to Filner in 1992 and again in 1996. "He takes this money, launders it through his wife, and puts it in his pocket."

For the record, it is indeed legal for Filner to pay his wife, Jane, for fundraising services. Even if the money does end up in his own household. Even if his campaign payments to his wife's company did amount to more than $154,000 in the past two election cycles. And even if his wife did earn far more than that during the past decade by working on her husband's campaigns.

It's allowed, according to House ethics rules, "if there is a bona fide campaign need for the goods, services or space and . . . the campaign does not pay more than fair market value in the transaction."

But Vargas, who will try next year to replace Filner as the 51st Congressional District's Democratic nominee, recognizes a timely issue when he sees one. Much attention has been paid recently to the nepotism of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, whose campaign and political action committees paid DeLay's wife and daughter more than $500,000 since 2001. Other members of Congress similarly employ family members, if not at such a price.

"My first bill if I get there (to Congress) is to make that illegal," vowed Vargas.

Lots of things involving money and politics are legal. Like, for instance, when Vargas took $135,600 in campaign gifts from banking and insurance interests in his post on the Assembly Banking Committee, then joined nine other lawmakers in helping to kill a bill that would have required these gift-givers to get permission before disclosing their customers' financial information.

Says Filner: "I'm a little saddened that he wants to attack my wife, but if he wants to debate ethics, I'll be happy to."

Stuntwoman wanted: Who was that woman, racing in a Black Hawk atop the foliage of a foreign land, flanked by armed guards, intent on discovering the truths of a strange new country? Was it Tomb Raider Lara Croft? Catwoman reborn? We know! Jennifer Garner in her "Elektra" sequel!

Not even close.

Try Barbara Boxer. And the way she tells it, she might as well have been starring in her own version of "Charlie's Angels" when she recently joined six other senators on a tour of Iraq.

"Each of us had machine guns around us the whole time we were there," Boxer said during a recent breakfast with reporters. "They wouldn't allow us to go on the road. We therefore went in Black Hawk helicopters where they had several of them flying as decoys. They had machine gunners on either side of the Black Hawk looking down constantly at the ground. We were speeding through the trees. It was an unbelievable experience."

One is far more accustomed to thinking of Boxer in her meticulously tailored suits, with her scrupulously manicured hands, delivering one of her famously liberal speeches against some conservative outrage or other – all in the relatively secure and civilized harbor known as the Senate floor.

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