This most curious ad popped up Monday in the online editions of CongressDaily and Hotline. It appears to be an allusion to recent news articles about California GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham selling his home to a defense industry contractor in 2003 for $1.7 million and the contractor's reselling it about a year later for $700,000 less.

But wait! What's that in the fine print? "This is not a valid real estate advertisement." "Personally paid for by F.H. Stark."

Could that be California Democratic Rep. Fortney H. "Pete" Stark? Yes, indeed. His office said he paid $500 for the ads, which were intended to gig the long-paralyzed House ethics committee into investigating Cunningham's dealings with the lobbyist, Mitchell J. Wade.

Cunningham, however, insists he has done nothing wrong. "Everything we've done is appropriate," he said in a statement, adding that his selling price for the house was not inflated. Cunningham also lives on the contractor's yacht, which is moored on the Potomac, but he pays market-rate rent.

Saving the Laughs for Last

The House International Relations Committee recently wrapped up work on a two-year State Department authorization bill, which will be Chairman Henry J. Hyde's last, since this is the Illinois Republican's last term.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) led a chorus of praise for Hyde, saying that at a time of deep division in Congress, it was "a tribute to your leadership" that the bill passed unanimously.

Hyde thanked him and asked if maybe others wanted "extra time" to talk. The laughter began.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) jumped in to praise Hyde, who interrupted Smith to say he was just kidding.

But Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) -- who is said to be, along with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a contender for the chairmanship -- would not be deterred. "I just want to add my voice" and say "what a nice guy you are . . . in spite of your nastiness and the way you mistreat me. I just want you to know I still think you are a fine fellow," Burton said, according to a source's notes. The laughter built.

"You are very easy to mistreat," Hyde countered.

Brought the House down.

Enough Said

Quote of the week comes from Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.), 64, who has been sued in D.C. Superior Court for $5.5 million by a woman who claims he physically abused her. He told reporters in his district that he will not resign, will run for reelection and, if need be, will testify in court to defend himself.

Asked about his relationship with the woman, who is 29, he said: "I've never talked about my personal life; I've never talked about anybody else's personal life. Let's leave it today to say that I knew the lady and I was in her company or this wouldn't have happened." Sure got that right.

Now, That's Entertainment

From the Sunday, June 19, Charlotte Observer's "Entertainment Calendar":

SUE MYRICK ON THE ISSUES: 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays in June, Time Warner Cable Channel 9. Rep. Sue Myrick discusses how U.S. budget is formed, what is in next year's budget and the importance of a strong budget.

So maybe we're not the only ones who think the federal budget process is a laugh riot.

Right Plane at Right Time

The main writer of the high-profile democracy speech that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave in Cairo on Monday is a young wordsmith named Chris Brose. He has become Rice's favorite in a very short period of time.

But eyebrows were raised when Michael Gerson, President Bush's former main speechwriter -- and now senior adviser -- was seen boarding Rice's plane in Washington.

Gerson explained that he has been handed the Middle East and democracy portfolio at the White House, reporting to White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., and that Elizabeth Cheney (the vice president's daughter and major State Department power on democracy matters) suggested he hitch a ride with Rice as she bounced around the Middle East. It would be part of his education on the subject. Of course, as luck would have it, Gerson also looked at the speech and made one or two suggestions.