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— Who is Ziyad Abduljawad and why is he giving all those travel freebies to GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the embattled old Navy fighter ace from the Vietnam War? According to congressional gift records, Cunningham has traveled twice to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the past 14 months on Abduljawad's tab. The first time was April 3 of last year, when the congressman spent a week meeting with "government and business leaders to promote discourse and better relations between the two nations." That was worth $10,537. Then Cunningham was off again last December 9 for a week of doing the same thing. On that trip, Cunningham was joined by fellow Republican congressman Ken Calvert, who represents the 44th District just north of San Diego County, including the cities of San Clemente, Corona, and Riverside. "Due to security risks, I stayed in a private home where meals were provided. Below is my best estimate about expenses," says Calvert's disclosure. He valued his free travel, food, and lodging at $10,790, the same as Cunningham's. It turns out that Ziyad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Newport Beach, is a member of the kingdom's wealthy Abduljawad family, which has its fingers into everything from home development in Orange County to high-tech electronics ventures. Reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show that Ziyad controls the shares of an outfit called Ellumina, LLC, which in turn has been in another venture with BridgeWest, LLC, run by Massih Tayebi, a big donor to the cause of San Diego Republicans such as Mayor Dick Murphy.

Family affairs A bit more than a month before the special election, big money is rolling into some San Diego mayoral campaigns. Ex-chief of police Jerry Sanders raised $105,022 in cash and $1028 in kind services. Councilwoman Donna Frye lags behind with about $74,000. Sanders can claim a prize for the most eclectic bunch of donors. They include lawyer Roy Bell, husband of U-T columnist Diane Bell; ex-Jimmy Carter staffer Midge Costanza; ex-GOP school-board candidate Julie Dubick; architect Kotaro Nakamura, husband of school-board member Katherine Nakamura; beer distributor and Charger stadium booster Ron Fowler; business-district maven and ex-bailbondsman Marco LiMandri; Frank Stiriti, manager of a gay bathhouse, Vulcan Steam and Sauna; dentist and ex-Padres PR man Charles Steinberg, now an exec with the Boston Red Sox; airport authority PR strategist Peter MacCracken; Corky McMillin's Richard Jarrett II; Sempra "group president" Edwin Guiles; developer NeilSenturia; and ex-city manager Jack McGrory... First prize for nondaily columnist of 2004 awarded last week by the local chapter of the professional journalists society: Lisa Ross, of the Carmel Valley News/Del Mar Village Voice, for "The Ross Retort." Judges' comments: "Miss Ross combines a gift for clear, engaging writing with an instinct for what is intriguing or outrageous." Ross's other recent distinction: agreeing to pay a $7500 fine to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission after admitting in December she laundered developer contributions to city-council campaigns in San Marcos and Perris for her friend, North County political consultant Colin Flaherty.

Nickels and dimes San Diegans who were thinking about not voting in next month's mayoral election might be reconsidering after taking a look at the latest price boosts in their cable TV bill. Cox Communications -- whose general manager Bill Geppert is a well-known regular around city hall and makes big contributions to councilmembers who vote Cox's way -- is hiking the monthly rate on its "standard" service from $39.95 to $41.95. Digital "premium" channels like HBO are going up a buck, from $10 to $11. And "franchise fees" -- charged to the company by the City of San Diego and passed on by Cox to its subscribers -- are rising from 5.55 percent to 5.90 percent. By contrast, county franchise fees remain at 5.25 percent, and fees in places like Chula Vista and El Cajon are staying at 5.55 percent.

He never sleeps Crusading San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre is on the prowl again. This time his target is the city's Ethics Commission. He's trying to get access to commission files for use in his ongoing investigation of pension fund and other sorts of financial flimflam at the city. But Aguirre's meeting fierce flak from a lawyer representing some of those previously investigated by the commission. "Because the City Attorney's office has the authority to criminally prosecute violations of city law, we would never be able to advise our clients to voluntarily provide documents or testimony to the Commission or to otherwise cooperate with the Commission's investigation, and instead would advise them to only respond to formal subpoenas in the most limited way justified by law," says a letter from San Francisco's Jim Sutton, the hard-charging lawyer who has represented some of the city's most prominent campaigns and candidates. His latest client: mayoral candidate Jerry Sanders.

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