Bribing with class
The newswires are aglow with reports about how convicted Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham went about accepting bribes in return for hefty defense contracts from his perch at the House Appropriations Committee from 1998 to 2005:
Prices came in the form of a "bribe menu" that detailed how much it would cost contractors to essentially order multimillion-dollar government contracts, according to documents submitted by federal prosecutors for Cunningham's sentencing hearing this Friday.
"The length, breadth and depth of Cunningham's crimes," the sentencing memorandum states, "are unprecedented for a sitting member of Congress."
Given the tawdry history of Capitol Hill's lower chamber, that's a strong statement. Besides, it's clear that Cunningham put a lot of thought into helping would-be bribers know how to go about their business, instead of the guessing game most Congressfolk demand when pocketing campaign cash:
The card shows an escalating scale for bribes, starting at $140,000 and a luxury yacht for a $16 million Defense Department contract. Each additional $1 million in contract value required a $50,000 bribe.
The rate dropped to $25,000 per additional million once the contract went above $20 million.
One of the defense contracts that found the "menu" helpful was Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty to giving Cunningham more than $1 million in bribes of cash, cars and antiques over four years in exchange for more than $150 million in government contracts for his company, MZM Inc.
Sounds like he knew the menu by heart.
By contrast, it seems Katherine Harris (R-FL) didn't show as much TLC with her benefactors. As the Gainseville Sun reported last Friday,
In a campaign desperate for smooth roads, Katherine Harris' quest for the U.S. Senate just can't stop hitting the potholes.
[O]n Friday, a former defense contractor pleaded guilty to bribing a California congressman. Mitchell Wade, the former president of MZM Inc., also said he'd given more than $50,000 in illegal contributions to Harris. MZM was Harris' largest donor in 2004; Harris recently gave the donations to charity.
If she had shown a touch more Southern hospitality, maybe she could have brought in more than $50,000.
Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South.