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Ethics questions dog California congressman; Owned cabin with Air Force Secretary

Miriam Raftery

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Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has come under fire from constituents for accepting nearly a quarter million dollars in campaign contributions from missile defense contractors over the past five years. Hunter has also drawn criticism for accepting $46,000 from un-indicted co-conspirators implicated in bribing Hunter’s friend and San Diego colleague, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who resigned from Congress after pleading guilty.

But Hunter’s ties to the defense industry go even deeper.

The Republican Congressman shares ownership in a Virginia cabin with Pete Geren – who served as Acting Secretary of the U.S. Air Force from August through early November, RAW STORY has learned. Hunter’s disclosure forms filed with the FEC indicate he built the cabin in 1996 along with Geren and a third partner, Al Tierney.

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The Associated Press has previously confirmed that Hunter’s cabin is co-owned by Geren, a former Democratic Congressman from Texas. But no publication has yet revealed that the powerful House Armed Services Committee chair has been bunking with the chief procurement officer for a branch of the armed services.

Boeing scandal vaulted Geren into Air Force position

Geren replaced former Air Force Secretary James Roche, who resigned following a procurement scandal involving an Air Force officer steering lucrative contracts to Boeing – a major Hunter contributor.

Roche resigned days before Senator John McCain revealed internal Air Force e-mailswhich indicated that a deal to convert passenger planes into military refueling tankers and lease them from Boeing amounted to a “bailout” for Boeing. The Washington Post published excerpts on June 7, indicating that the White House had blacked out references to Congressional members who pressured the Pentagon to back the deal, which was ultimately scrapped.

Scandals involving Boeing and the dubious tanker deal previously resulted in criminal conviction of two Boeing executives for illegally negotiating a job for an Air Force contracting officer who held sway over a multi-billion dollar contract sought by Boeing. Air Force acquisition official Darleen A. Druyun was also prosecuted and jailed. Geren has called Druyen’s actions “shameful.”

This June, after the scandal had died down, Hunter quietly attached an amendment to the military budget that would have eliminated Airbus from bidding on a future tanker, leaving Boeing the only available contractor for a deal that could be worth billions of dollars. The Chicago Tribune, which revealed Hunter’s amendment, found his staunch support “especially noteworthy given Boeing’s recent troubles.”

In short, President George W. Bush replaced an Air Force Secretary who resigned over a Boeing procurement scandal with a temporary stand-in whose hunting pal and cabin-mate is the powerful Congressman pushing the same deal on Boeing’s behalf.

During his brief tenure, Geren gained notoriety for being named in a lawsuit filed against the Air Force by Jewish cadets, who alleged that Christianity was illegally imposed at an Air Force academy.

Geren stepped down Nov. 9. His replacement, Michael Wynne, was blamed in a report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General for allowing backroom Boeing deals to take place outside of formal Pentagon procedures. Wynne was also found to have deliberately misled auditors at the White House budget office regarding the Boeing deal. Wynne’s appointment was held up temporarily by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which demanded the release of documents related to the Boeing scandal.

Before becoming Secretary of the Air Force, Geren was a board member of Anadarko Petroleum, a Texas oil company. Geren served in Congress from 1989 to 1997, where he served on the Armed Services Committee and was a vocal advocate for the defense industry.

Cunningham co-conspirator donated money to Hunter

Hunter, who has held office for 25 years, has come under fire for other questionable defense deals. A Dec. 8 editorial titled “Legal Looting” in the conservative San Diego Union-Tribune criticized Hunter for helping defense contractors ADCS and AUDRE obtain $290 million in Pentagon contracts for “automated data conversion” projects. A 1994 General Accounting Office report noted that the Pentagon didn’t want this “help,” as it already had the tools for such work, the editorial noted.

But the Union-Tribune observed, “Cunningham, Hunter and their House allies didn’t care. AUDRE and ADCS were generous with contributions—and ADCS executive Brent Wilkes was allegedly bribing Cunningham. No matter who griped, lawmakers could always add ’earmarks’ for pet projects to bills and get their way. This led to such absurdities as a $9.7 million contract for ADCS to digitize historical documents from the Panama Canal Zone that the Pentagon considered insignificant.”

Asked about the Union-Tribune editorial, Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper questioned the publisher’s motives and said, “Mr. Hunter has always represented the best interest of the American war fighter as well as the American taxpayer. …Mr. Hunter was a proponent of the document conversion technology when it was first proposed. There is backing for that program.”

Kasper provided RAW STORY with a letter from Acting Secretary of the Navy L.R. Vicuna outlining benefits of the AUDRE conversion software, citing cost savings. That letter was dated earlier than documentation cited in the Union-Tribune editorial opposing the program. Kasper also forwarded a letter from Hunter to Pentagon Deputy Under Secretary John Phillips urging him to “ignore all political pressure from the Hill to spend money on a particular company” and suggesting that Phillips “allow all potential vendors to give you their recommendation on how the program can best serve the taxpayers.”

Hunter has acknowledged that he joined Cunningham in 1999 to contact Pentagon officials, who reversed a decision and gave ADCS one of its first big contracts, for nearly $20 million, the Union-Tribune reported.

The East County Californian reported on December 1st that Hunter “ranks among the top ten recipients who accepted contributions from MZM and ADCS, defense contractors accused of paying bribes to Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham, the Republican Congressman from San Diego who recently pled guilty, resigned his House seat, and is now awaiting sentencing.” Hunter received $22,700 from Wilkes Corp/ADCS and $7,000 from MZM Inc. from 1995-2005, including PAC and individual donations, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Since 1994, Hunter has collected $40,700 from Wilkes and ADCS. In 2003, the Wilkes Foundation hosted a “Salute to Heroes” gala to laud Hunter, as it did for Cunningham the prior year. Days later, USA Today reported that Hunter raked in $46,000 from Wilkes and his associates. Texas authorities have now issued subpoenas for Wilkes in relation to the Tom DeLay money-laundering investigation.

Hunter has donated money obtained from the Cunningham unindicted co-conspirators to a charity for injured Marines, spokesman Joe Kasper said. Kasper maintains that Hunter’s contributions are entirely “ethical and legal.”

Hunter's Titan connection

Over the past five years, Hunter and his Peace Through Strength PAC have raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars ($245,670) in donations from missile defense contractors alone--more than any other member of Congress except Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). Topping Hunter’s list is Titan, with $40,825, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Titan has been implicated in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal; a Titan employee was photographed beside the infamous naked prisoner pyramid. Two pending lawsuits alleged that Titan employees were involved in torture of prisoners; Titan has denied the allegations.

Democratic leaders have accused Hunter of being the single biggest force blocking investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal as well as the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Despite a checkered track record, Titan was recently awarded over a half million dollars in contracts related to the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. The firm settled a bribery lawsuit in March filed by federal prosecutors under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, shelling out $28,500 in criminal and civil fines plus $61.5 million to settle securities fraud lawsuits filed by investors.

Hunter hawked hardware not sought by Pentagon

Hunter, who was flying to Washington D.C., was not reachable before press deadline. But his spokesman, Kasper, indicated that “Congress has the responsibility to raise the budget each fiscal year and does an excellent job of incorporating the Department of Defense in that process.” He added that projects such as the X-Craft and stealth fighter were opposed by the Department of Defense, but approved by Congress. He later clarified that it was Congress that pushed this through, and he was unsure of Hunter's specific role, if any.

Hunter and Cunningham have claimed credit for pushing funding through Congress for the Navy’s X-craft, a contract awarded to Titan in 2003.

“To say that the Department of Defense is right in every situation is not the case,” Kasper said, noting that “If it wasn’t for Mr. Hunter, who pushed this through a lukewarm Department of Defense and Navy bureaucracy, we would not have the stealth fighter as well.” (Note: After publication, Kasper asked RAW STORY in an email to add that he doesn't know how much of a role Hunter played in the development of the stealth fighter.)

Hunter led efforts in 1998 to prevent $331 million in proposed funding cuts for the B-1 stealth bomber. According to OpenSecrets.org, the extra bombers were not requested by either the Pentagon or President Clinton. Northrop Grumman, maker of the B-1, donated $22,500 via its PAC to Hunter’s campaign from 1995-1997. Hunter defended the B-1 bombers as necessary to keep pilots from flying planes “older than our great-grandfathers.”

Hunter, an avid hunting enthusiast, is also under attack for a proposal that would turn Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands National Park into a Defense Department installation for military special forces training and military recreation, including hunting. The proposal is an amendment to a defense authorization bill currently in conference committee to resolve differences between House and Senate versions.

Hunter contributions draw scrutiny in district

The California legislature is currently considering a clean money campaign bill to restrict corporate donations in state races. A clean money campaign in San Diego County, Hunter’s home turf, is also gaining steam, fueled by the conviction of two City Council members on corruption charges as well as by Cunningham pleading guilty to bribery. These issues have heightened public awareness regarding corporate influence on politics.

Hunter’s opponent, Democrat Karen Marie Otter, an Army veteran, has pledged not to accept any money from defense contractors—and has criticized Hunter. “It’s suspect that he is so aggressive that we stay in Iraq because of the profits that he’s getting in contributions from defense contractors,” she concluded.

Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane contributed research for this report.

Originally published on Wednesday December 14, 2005

 


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