Pay for play
Local Congressman “Duke” Cunningham’s problems take a turn for the interesting:
Mitchell Wade, founder of the defense contracting firm MZM Inc., pressured employees to donate to a political fund that benefited Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and other members of Congress, according to three former employees of the company.
Wade, who took a $700,000 loss on the purchase of Cunningham’s Del Mar home and allows the congressman to stay on his yacht while in Washington, demanded employees tomake donations to the company’s political action committee, MZM PAC, they said.
“By the spring of ’02, Mitch was twisting employees’ arms to donate to his MZM PAC,” said one former employee. “We were called in and told basically either donate to the MZM PAC or we would be fired.”
Many companies have PACs, but campaign finance laws prohibit employers from pressuring workers to contribute to the PAC. They may encourage contributions, but not compel them.
Here is where the fun starts:
MZM has been seeking to increase its contracts with the Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Special Operations Command, both based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., according to former employees.
The three former MZM employees who said Wade pressured them and others to donate money to the company PAC declined to be identified, saying they feared for their careers if their names were disclosed. All continue to work in the military and intelligence fields.
They and other former MZM employees questioned the way Wade solicited contracts from Defense Department intelligence agencies during the time they worked for the company.
They also expressed concerns about Wade’s dealings with three House members who received a large portion of the money disbursed by MZM’s PAC. The three … all Republicans … are Cunningham and Reps. Virgil Goode of Virginia and Katherine Harris of Florida.
MZM officials and their family members gave Harris, who ran for Congress in 2002, a total of $44,000 during 2003 and 2004. Goode received a total of $27,851 between 2000 and 2004.
Ashdown echoed the comments of former MZM employees in saying Wade strategically targeted MZM’s donations.
“A lot of people will throw a lot of money at a lot of different people,” Ashdown said. Wade’s “strategy was, `I need to make friends with a few very influential lawmakers and really, really schmooze and coddle them and that’s how I’m going to make my money.’ And that’s what he did.
“The first person is Cunningham, a senior guy on the (defense appropriations) committee, and he helps them get business. Then they go to another guy on the (defense appropriations) committee, Goode, who’s more junior but has the benefit of getting a facility in his district. And then they go to Katherine Harris, who isn’t on the committee but needs lots of money for her Senate race and would be bringing business and new jobs to her area,” Ashdown said.
Harris plans to run for Senate next year.
By the way, people are asking if Cunningham is either arrogant or just stupid to think that he could get away with the house selling scam. As an interested observer of Cunningham for many years I can attest to the fact that he is profoundly stupid as in JD Hayworth-stupid which is just short of stick-your-tongue-in-a-light-socket kind of stupid.