‘Duke’ puts the fun back in corruption

Adam Milasincic

In the tax-funded bordello that is Washington, D.C., Randy “Duke” Cunningham was the $2 whore.

He might be a disgraced ex-congressman headed for the paddy wagon, but at least he knew how to take bribes like a champ.

Cunningham, the California Republican who resigned in December after pleading guilty to tax evasion and bribery, is a welcome throwback to an earlier brand of corrupt politician.

Sure he pocketed $2.4 million from defense contractors in exchange for official actions, but he did so like an old-school heel.

ABC News reported Monday that Cunningham even offered a written “bribe” menu to his benefactors. He handed a corporate boss a piece of official stationery with hand-written prices for federal contracts. The first $16 million cost $140,000 plus a yacht. Rates fell to a more reasonable $50,000 per million after that threshold. I’m not making this up.

The official inventory of Cunningham’s ill-gotten collection reads like the classified ad for a Victoria Gotti garage sale: A 19th century armoire, laser guns, even a junked-up ($13,500) Rolls-Royce. Cunningham’s friends also bought him two homes – a $2.3 million mansion in San Diego and a 42-foot yacht docked outside Washington.

In a priceless move of stupidity, Cunningham deposited the cash into his personal bank account and filed official paperwork to christen his yacht the “Duke-Stir.”

In return for the bribes, Cunningham used his perch on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee to rack up $150 million in contracts for MZM, Inc. It’s actually rather cute.

Cunningham should earn an Oscar for best reprisal of a historical screenplay. The “please arrest me” nature of his scandal recalls congressional glory days of yore.

Scandals used to be fun. Politicians took bags of cash from FBI agents dressed as sheiks. Marion Barry smoked crack on video. Ohio’s own Wayne Hays hired his mistress as a secretary in the 1970s.

“Duke” Cunningham is himself a vestige of political central casting, a pie-faced man of 63 who includes a quotation-marked nickname on his letterhead.

Cunningham’s classic breed of corruption is different from the one en vogue today. Congressmen have grown trickier with their bribes. Now they hide them, then deny them and then accuse their opponents of dirty politics. It’s all so boring and formulaic.

For pity’s sake, Bob Taft torpedoed his administration for a few $40 golf junkets. That’s the best he can do?

Where have all the Condits gone? Where are the tearful mea culpas? The abrupt resignations? The Mafia connections and dead bodies?

The Duke-Stir did it right. Instead of concealing his money behind political front groups, he splurged on gaudy furniture. Instead of crying foul when caught with his chubby hands in the cash drawer, he took it like a man – weeping on national television and then quitting Congress.

No lawsuits, no talking points, no blaming the Democrats.

Cunningham’s corruption was mild compared to the real scandals in Washington today. At least he admitted guilt. There were no whole-scale policy changes because the Duke-stir had a weakness for cheap antiques.

We would all be better off if the rest of Congress followed Duke’s lead. At least that would leave less time for passing bad laws.

Adam Milasincic is a senior journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].