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Contractors sought to boost political ties

Pair involved in probe of Calif. lawmaker

WASHINGTON -- Two defense contractors at the center of former representative Randy ''Duke" Cunningham's bribery case also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to curry favor with other influential lawmakers, records indicate.

One contractor, Brent Wilkes, provided private jet flights to lawmakers, including Representatives Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, and Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who is serving as majority leader while DeLay fights money-laundering charges in Texas.

Wilkes also raised at least $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 reelection bid and donated more than $70,000 to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed him to two state boards.

There is no indication that the donations were improper. Prosecutors have not suggested that the investigation that snared Cunningham -- a California Republican who resigned last week after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes -- involves other lawmakers.

Wilkes and defense contractor Mitchell Wade, along with their families and companies, donated generously to dozens of political campaigns -- mostly Republican -- beginning in the 1990s. Among the top beneficiaries, according to an Associated Press analysis of records from PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign spending, were:

DeLay, who received $70,000 from Wilkes and his associates.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who received $46,000 from Wilkes, Wade, and their associates.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Jerry Lewis, a California Republican who received about $50,000 from Wilkes, Wade, and their associates.

Representative John Doolittle, a California Republican who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, who received about $46,000 from Wilkes and his associates.

The contractors' political activity came as they landed valuable government contracts, drawing the attention of campaign finance watchdog groups.

''There's no question that both Wilkes and Wade were expert at greasing the wheels of the legislative machine," said Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. ''They knew who and when to give money to, and it really gave them free rein over taxpayer-funded defense contractors."

The list of lawmakers who took money also includes Representative Katherine Harris, Republican of Florida; Representative Virgil Goode, Republican of Virginia; Representative Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee; House Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan; and Senator Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho.

Hunter, Lewis, Harris, and Hoekstra have donated the money to charity, or plan to. Craig, Mollohan, DeLay, and Doolittle have said they will hang on to it. As of Thursday, Goode had not decided, an aide said.

''I just think it was the appropriate thing to do," said Hunter, who is giving the money to help injured Marines. He also released two letters Thursday that he sent Pentagon officials in 1997 and 2000 urging them to use their judgment on pursuing projects to convert paper documents to digital form -- the specialty of Wilkes's company ADCS Inc., which has its headquarters in Hunter's district in the San Diego area.

Published reports have said Cunningham and Hunter promoted such programs in the face of Pentagon opposition.

Neither Wilkes nor Wade is named in Cunningham's plea deal, in which he admits taking cash and gifts including antiques and a Rolls-Royce.

The plea mentions four unnamed co-conspirators, who have not been charged. Details make clear that coconspirator .2 is Wade; Wilkes's lawyer, Michael Lipman, has confirmed that Wilkes is coconspirator .1.

Wade's lawyer declined to comment on Thursday, and a message left with Lipman was not immediately returned.

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