Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

With the news today that the boat Randy "Duke" Cunningham lives on down at the yacht club really isn't 'his' yacht but rather a yacht pretty clearly bought for him by a defense contractor getting his help on the appropriations committee, you really have to wonder: How do they think they'll get away with it? And yet, until now he has.

Yeah, I know. Apparently the Duke is 'renting' the boat. But how is it exactly that Mitchell Wade's boat got named the 'Duke Stir' anyway? He's a big John Wayne fan?

In any case, this is one of the things that always surprises me about Washington. There are many members of Congress -- hopefully most, but who knows? -- who are almost comically precise in following all the various rules and regulations about who has to pay for meals or whether some little trinket gift has to be reported. And when you're literal about them the rules are pretty broad and encompassing.

Even folks who get in trouble for campaign finance stuff are often breaking technical rules which, while important, don't go to issues of personal gain for the member of Congress involved. A lot of DeLay's troubles stem from Texas laws about corporate giving in political campaigns in the state.

And then you've got Duke Cunningham who appears to be more or less owned by a defense contractor with business before his committee. I mean, when you add up all we know, it seems like Mitchell Wade basically bought or heavily contributed to buying the Duke luxury homes (albeit, one waterborne) in the district and in Washington. And apparently no one noticed.

It's right out of the 19th century.

Living large, free of charge.

Ever since the story broke Sunday about Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and his uncanny real estate prowess, there've been questions bubbling about just how he affords other aspects of his lavish lifestyle. One question that's popped up again and again was how he can afford to have a 40+ foot yacht as his DC residence.

While in Washington, you see, the Duke resides on the "Duke Stir", a 42-foot, 34-ton yacht docked at the Capital Yacht Club down on the Potomac River.

Well, it turns out that the "Duke Stir" is owned by Mitchell Wade.

In reply to William Finn Bennett, who has the story in this morning's North County Times, Cunningham's office sent an email in which the Duke said: "I am putting information and records together so that you will know how much I pay to stay there, and you will see that everything we've done is appropriate."

I think we're pretty much at checkmate now, aren't we?

Tomorrow on page A9 in the Post: Republicans fumble and quarrel over how to find an exit strategy on Social Security. Moderates say pull out the troops; wingers say keep pushing till the job gets done.

Hasty Hastert Rebukes Duke!

From the AP ...

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told reporters Wednesday he'd seen the allegations and that's why the committee was needed. "We need to get the ethics committee up and running," he said.

It seems we may be in free-fall mode right now. But in case the Duke flames out before the Ethics Committee can get the shutters open, there's always Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH).

Uh-boy. I don't know why or how. But MZM, Inc. (the defense contracting company owned by Randy "Duke" Cunningham's real estate sugar daddy Mitchell Wade) is awful deep into Rep. Virgil Goode (R) of Virginia.

Earlier we told you about MZM's outsized giving to Goode in the 2004 election cycle.

But check out their giving so far this year. In the 2006 election cycle MZM employees have made a total of 23 contributions for a total of $34,625.

Every dollar went to Rep. Goode.

What's up with that?

Late Update: This blog says the stats I was looking at missed a bunch of other contributions from the wives of MZM execs.

Even Later Update: Just a note to be clear on Rep. Goode. By the standards that prevail in Washington today, nothing I've seen says he's done anything wrong. And I want to be clear that the stats and contribution numbers I've highlighted tonight don't prove or even really suggest that he has (again, by the rather frail ethical strictures that prevail in Washington today). What I am noting is that MZM Inc. seems to have a real problem playing by the rules. And because of that, the members of Congress who they're heavily courting (like Goode) probably bear a real close look.

It Just Don't Get Later Than This Update: We hear that MZM's interest in Rep. Goode probably stems from the fact that the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center is located in his district. Our attention is directed to the recently-released Base Realignment and Closure Report for more insight on what's up.

I realize I may have been a bit hasty in assuming that Randy "Duke" Cunningham's real estate escapades weren't necessarily tied to statecraft.

It seems that twice last year the Duke visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the dime of Ziyad Abduljawad.

Abduljawad is the founder and chairman of PLC Land Company, what The Hill calls, "a multi-million dollar real estate company in Cunningham’s district."

That's interesting.

This blog points out that MZM, Inc. defense-contractor-cum-real-estate-agency throws a decent amount of money around. And not just to Randy "Duke" Cunningham. A decent amount of it goes to Rep. Virgil Goode (R) of Virginia.

In fact, when you look at this chart at OpenSecrets, you'll see that the employees of MZM, Inc. gave Goode $48,551 in the last election cycle.

That's a helluva lot of money for one member of Congress from one small company. The next runner-up was McDermott International. And they gave only about a quarter of that amount ($12,750). When I first found this out I figured that Goode must also be on Defense Appropriations, like the Duke.

But it turns out he's not. He's on the Ag subcommittee, which makes sense for his district, but wouldn't seem to have much appeal to a defense contractor. But he's also on the Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce. And that must be what makes him such a favored fellow.

As long-time readers know, Goode's a good guy on Social Security. But MZM, Inc. sounds like an operation that plays fast and loose. And it really sounds like Virgil Goode's their friend.

(ed.note: We hear some employees from MZM, Inc. are already starting to talk. So we may well know a lot more about this story quite soon. And one other thing, does prima facie evidence of a bribe in exchange for favorable treatment on contracting assignments get you a day before the Ethics Committee? Just asking.)

Many of you will already have noticed the story in the LA Times about the bonanza Sen. Stevens (R) pulled off in his own real estate deal. Says the lede of the Times piece: "Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) made $822,000 last year from the sale of a controversial real estate investment with an Anchorage developer who had obtained a huge federal contract with his help."

This and the CunningScam story led one TPM Reader to suggest that it may not be low interest rates so much as high-rolling Republican members of Congress who are responsible for the nation's real estate boom.

TPM Reader BL helpfully sends in this list of what other members of Congress failed real estate speculator Mitchell Wade gave money to.

I guess in the case of Mr. Wade we should make clear that the aforementioned list is of political contributions rather than personal cash gifts.

Just wanted to be clear ...

(ed.note: Scanning the list, looks like all Republicans from the House. But there is that $2,000 contribtion to "Rockefeller, Jay". Hmmm.)

TPM scoops local paper on CunningScam story!

In this morning's paper, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports what TPM reported last night -- that the broker (and her family) who arranged for defense contractor Mitchell Wade to buy Rep. Cunningham's house for that inflated price has been a Cunningham campaign contributor to the tune of $11,500.

That said, the Union-Tribune story by Marcus Stern -- who broke the story on Sunday -- is excellent and nails down pretty much all the remaining loose ends which might have given any doubt what sort of 'transaction' this really was.

On the key point, was there any reason to believe that the Cunningham house had a fair market value of $1,675,000?

Stern: "A Copley News Service review of the comps for Cunningham's neighborhood during the approximate time of the sale show an array of houses of vastly different sizes and views selling for $700,000 to $1.7 million. This indicates that Todd might have set the price at the high end of the range when she set it at $1,675,000. However, the eight months it languished on the market and its subsequent sale for $975,000 during a seller's market suggest a value closer to the low end, according to real estate professionals interviewed for this article."

I'd say that passage makes Stern almost as generous as our man Mitchell Wade.

Remember, Todd set the value at $25,000 under what was apparently the highest priced home in Cunningham's entire neighborhood. And that was from a list of houses "of vastly different sizes and views." So Todd, it seems, actually went to some lengths to come in just under the laugh test mark. But even then, not really.

Another point to keep in mind, as many readers have reminded us over the last few days, is that the San Diego real estate market has been positively on fire in the last couple years. Indeed, Stern quotes another realtor saying that residential real estate properties were going up about 20% a year at the time this whole scam went down.

So even though the house eventually sold for $975,000 close to a year later, it seems likely that its fair market value at the time Cunningham sold it was well below that.

And one final point from the Stern article in the San Diego paper. As we've noted, real estate agent and Cunningham campaign contributor Elizabeth Todd put together this list of comps to justify the inflated price. As Stern notes, the "next step in a normal arms-length transaction would have been [for the purchasor, i.e., Wade] to have a Realtor or appraiser drive by the houses to see if the house being purchased was more like houses at the upper end of the range or more like houses at the lower end of the range."

But apparently Wade made no effort whatsoever to ascertain if the price he was paying for the house had any relation to its actual value. No other real estate agent, no appraiser, nothing. He went ahead on bought it -- apparently, for cash.

This story leaves little doubt that this thing was all a set-up: Mr. Wade gave Rep. Cunningham an unreported gift of upwards of a million dollars, a transaction to which Elizabeth Todd was almost certainly the knowing, shall we say, handmaiden.

Read Stern's story and see if there's any other way to interpret the facts.

Next, question: what other businesses are the Todds involved in?