Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Lets note this officially

Let's note this officially as a story that the gatekeepers say isn't a story.

You know about the three Denver residents who were physically ejected from the Bamboozlepalooza event in their town back in March. They got the heave-ho from a guy in a black suit and an earpiece impersonating a Secret Service officer. Later they learned it was because they'd arrived in a car with a 'No Blood for Oil' sticker on it.

Various inquiries have now made it clear that the man in question was not a Secret Service agent, but a political working for the White House, acting on orders that have been in force for such events across the country.

But the White House refuses to identify the person in question or drop the policy. The White House says all the questions tied to the incident have been "asked and answered" and the folks in the White House press corps are apparently satisfied with that answer. So the story ends there apparently.

Hungry or overfed?

The North County Times

The North County Times on Aqua-Duke ...

What's more, Cunningham since April 2004 has been living on Wade's yacht in Washington. The congressman said that in lieu of rent, he paid more than $8,000 in dock fees and $5,000 for upkeep on Wade's boat.

We can set aside the dock fees, because Cunningham rented space for his own boat at the Potomac River marina for years before he moved into Wade's boat. According to Cunningham's accounting, that $5,000 over the last 14 months amounts to $357 a month.

Unless we are missing something, this looks like a sweetheart deal, with Cunningham paying far less than market rent, to say nothing of the true maintenance and depreciation costs of a fancy boat.

$357. At least it's fair market <$NoAd$> value.

You can live nextdoor

You can live nextdoor to Duke!

The house at 7150 Via Del Charro is on sale for a mere $5 million.

(As always in real estate there's fine print. The listing actually reads: "Seller will entertain offers between $4,650,000 and $5,400,876.")

To compare and contrast, here's the satellite view of Duke's place and here's the view of the place you can buy.

For the true Duke

For the true Duke aficionados, the Duke Stir was built in 1987 by Carver Boat Corp.

Length is 42.2 ft. Fiberglass hull. Gross Tonnage 34, Net Tonnage 27.

You can look up the same info here.

Hmmm. Hard to know

Hmmm. Hard to know quite what these numbers mean. But let's see if anyone out there knows more.

Back in December 2003 Duke paid Douglas Powanda $2.55 million for the new manse in Rancho Santa Fe at 7094 Via Del Charro. Powanda is Duke's big campaign contributor from Peregrine Systems who's now waiting to go on trial for multibillion dollar securities fraud. They paid cash. And the new place comes in at 7,628 sq.ft.

Now, TPM Reader JS sent in these links to me which show that a couple weeks later someone else paid $2.25 million for the place down the road at 6849 Via Del Charro. But the records say that place only has 2936 sq.ft. (Satelite view of this location.)

A couple months earlier the place at 7002 Via Del Charro went for $3.45 million. And that place had only 5290 sq.ft. That's more than 2000 sq.ft. less than Duke's place. (Satellite view of this location.)

Now, maybe the Duke's place is a dump, though these photos would suggest otherwise. Or perhaps one part of the street has a to-die-for ocean view and the others don't. Who knows? In all honesty, it really is impossible to know what the different values mean having never seen individual homes or the lay of the land. And maybe I'm misinterpreting what these documents mean. (Here's a satellite view of Duke's place.) But given Duke's reputation for good luck on real estate deals, I'd say this deserves a look. Who knows? His judgment may have failed him on this one too.

If you're from the area or know it, drop me a line and tell me what you think.

TPM Readers check in

TPM Readers check in on Aqua-Duke ...

That's ridiculous!

The annual cost of owning such a boat is far more than the marina fees. And remember, Duke was already paying those fees for his own boat before he switched to the "Duke Stir."

If the Duke pays for parking and gas, can Wade buy him a Porsche?


Then there's RN ...

Josh, You're missing the bigger point. A yacht like that is worth easily a million dollars. It's not the slip rental. It's the fact that he got to live in a million dollar "residence" for the cost of the slip rental. It's like if someone offered you their million dollar house, and all you had to pay were the homeowner's fees.

But just FYI, I used to live on a boat in L.A., in Marina Del Rey for 2 years. Most marinas have basic slip rental rates. I would imagine on the Potomac in the high-rent slips, like Wade's yacht was in, they run (I'm being conservative) between 15 & 20/foot per month. But marinas aren't crazy about liveaboards, because they use lots of electricity and water and they pollute. Marinas generally discourage the practice so they tack on liveaboard fees which will typically run the slip rent up another 50%. If it was a 50 foot yacht then the slip rental could have been $1000/month easy. Plus another $500/month for the liveaboard fees, making $1500/total.

I defer to the <$NoAd$> yachtsmen among you.

Then there's CC


I thought I had read that Mitchell Wade’s yacht was docked in Duke Cunningham’s slip while the Duke’s yacht was being repaired. So isn’t the Duke simply paying his own dock fees while living on Wade’s yacht for free? Or am I confused.

Nope. That's what we thought too.

Duke breaks his silence

Duke breaks his silence! Speaks out on long sordid shenanigans. North County Times reprints statement.

It's fairly long. So you'll want to read it. But on a quick glance, this jumped out at me ...

Finally, recent news reports have questioned whether it was appropriate for me to live on a boat owned by Mr. Wade while I was working in Washington. It is important to note that I first came to Congress in 1991, and I only began living on Mr. Wade's boat in roughly April 2004. Mr. Wade and I agreed that, in return for me staying on the boat, I would pay the monthly dock fees and maintenance costs associated with keeping Mr. Wade's boat at the marina. There was nothing improper about my arrangement with Mr. Wade because I paid these monthly fees and costs in lieu of rent. Based on the records that I have been able to locate to date, I have paid well over $8,000 for the dock fees and well over $5,000 for service and maintenance. My attorneys are collecting the full payment records now and will make them available when they are all gathered.

This is great. Duke has <$Ad$> lived there for over a year. And he's paid $13,000 out of pocket. Yes, he says "well over". But by the looks of the document search he and his lawyers are doing it seems he's going to dig up the receipts for every roll of toilet paper and every bottle of windex he bought while he was there to pad the total.

When I lived in DC I lived in a medium to small-sized one bedroom apartment on 19th Street between R & S streets. That's in Dupont Circle.

DC housing isn't cheap. By the time I left last December I think my rent was $1468 a month. So with the help of my trusty calculator I can figure out that I was paying $17,616 in rent a year. So I was paying substantially more to live in my little one bedroom apartment than Duke was to live on Wade Mitchell's yacht down on the river.

He should have mentioned it. I would have been happy to trade. I had no idea it was so cheap to live down on a yacht on the Potomac.

Can you get wifi on a boat?

Naomi Seligman isnt happy

Naomi Seligman isn't happy with the House Democrats. And, I would say, with some reason.

You probably know that Seligman is Deputy Director and Communications Director for CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington). And with a name like that, you can probably tell she and her colleagues have their work cut out for them.

In any case, a week ago CREW called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate the 'mystery' behind defense contractor Mitchell Wade's sweetheart purchase of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's home for upwards of a million dollars over market value and whether that had anything to do with Wade's company going from zero to sixty in about ten seconds in the Homeland Security and Defense contracting game.

On Tuesday, CREW filed a related complaint with the Federal Elections Commission about Mitchell Wade's alleged practice of forcing employees of his company, MZM, Inc., to cough up cash for the company PAC to be served up for Reps. Cunningham, Goode and Harris.

In any case, back to Seligman and her beef.

Seligman et al. are pissed at the Dems because under the House rules only another member of the House can file an ethics complaint with the House Ethics Committee. And despite their best efforts, the folks at Crew can't find a single Democratic member of the House who's willing to go out on a limb and fill out a form saying that they think the Ethics Committee maybe ought to take a look at Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Wade), his house sale, 'his' fancy yacht, and his general status as the best kept (at least as far as we know so far) man in Congress.

Now, I've talked to various knowledgable folks. And the reasons are several. The ethics committee is shut down. So there's no point in filing a complaint. That's one of the main excuses. But the real reason seems to be this -- and the word comes down right from the House leadership: the Democrats don't want to start filing ethics complaints against the Republicans because they're afraid the Republicans will turn around and do the same to them.

They apparently want the 'truce' of the late 1990s back in force.

And just so we're clear, it's awfully hard to think of anything more pathetic than that.

Allow me a moment to explain why.

There are reasons beside cynical ones for an ethics truce to be in place. With all that has happened in the widening gyre of partisan warfare over the last two decades, there is some sense in both parties coming to some tacit agreement not to bludgeon each other senseless with endless hearings and investigations into what are often technical infractions by members on either side.

But if the price of a truce is that a member of the opposition party -- which if I'm not mistaken is making ethics and abuse of power one of its signature issues -- is not willing to throw down a red flag when a member of the majority party is caught quite demonstrably on the take from a businessman getting contracts from the member's committee, then you realize that there's really no point having an ethics committee or any ethics regulations at all.

If there is any point of merit in having a truce it is that both sides agree not to use ethics complaints merely as proxies in wider political battles and reserve them for the clear and manifest ethical infractions. But if it covers cases of manifest (almost definitional) political corruption, again, then there's no point in having an ethics committee at all.

But let me reel these angels back off the head of this pin.

The Republicans are running the most corrupt Congress in any of our lifetimes. I don't care if you're a hundred years old. Still applies. I'm not just talking about law breaking -- just as much, it's the practices that are actually legal but no less corrupt for that.

On Wednesday, the Post's Jeff Birnbaum had a story on the explosion in the lobbying trade since 2000. If the Dems want their knock-out campaign cudgel for 2006, Jeff provided it: "The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent."

In explaining these developments Birnbaum writes: "The lobbying boom has been caused by three factors, experts say: rapid growth in government, Republican control of both the White House and Congress, and wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits."

Now, a daily newspaper man works under different constraints and has a different brief than someone in my shoes. And this is what my late advisor Jack Thomas would have called a crackerjack piece. But I think I can cover this ground even more simply.

How's this? In Washington today, everything is for sale so there are a lot more salesmen. And there's so much to sell they're all getting higher commissions.

It may lack the granularity of Jeff's explanation. But that is the essence of the matter. That's why there are so many more lobbyists. The whole place is corrupt to the core. It's Tammany on the Potomac.

And here's the most pitiful thing of all. The Republicans are running a wildly corrupt Congress -- particularly on the House side. And the Democrats are so shorn of power that they couldn't even manage to be very corrupt if they tried. After all, this kind of corruption is about selling access and power. And the Democrats have no access or power!

So how is it exactly that the Democrats should be afraid that the Republicans are going to be able to give as good as they get if there's an 'ethics war' in the House when that is the case. Some are just scared. Others, particularly some of the veterans, don't want to clamp down too much because they've spent ten years out of power and they don't want all the fun to be over if and when they finally get back in the saddle.

If elected Democrats aren't able or willing to take a stand against the cash-n-carry legislative ethos of Tom DeLay's Washington they're simply not doing the job anyone sent them there to do. And they should be replaced too.