Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) is asking his contributors -- including the Washington defense contractor at the center of a federal grand jury probe -- for permission to use their campaign donations to pay for his legal defense.
Cunningham announced last month that he is not running for reelection because of the investigation, which focuses on his relationship with Mitchell J. Wade, founder of MZM Inc. The company has worked on several Pentagon intelligence programs that Cunningham supported as a member of the House intelligence and appropriations committees.
In letters that went to Wade and other donors earlier this month, the congressman said that the government investigation could last well into next year and that his legal expenses "could exceed a million or more dollars." Cunningham's campaign fund had $672,115 at the end of June. The Federal Election Commission has approved similar requests to use campaign donations to pay legal bills.
Separately, Cunningham is setting up a legal expense trust, which will permit him to accept as much as $5,000 a year from individual and corporate donors.
Investigators last month searched the homes of both men, as well as Wade's office and his yacht on the Potomac River, where Cunningham had lived rent-free for more than a year. The inquiry began after the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in June that Wade had bought the congressman's home in late 2003 and sold it several months later at a $700,000 loss. Wade and his wife, Christiane Wade, donated $12,000 to Cunningham between 2001 and last fall.
Cunningham told his donors that if they objected to the use of their money to pay for his legal expenses, he would donate it to the House GOP campaign committee. Mark Olson, a Cunningham spokesman, said any donor who asks for a refund will get one.