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Duke's donations Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who pled guilty last year to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors, has been using campaign money to pay for the pricey legal talents of the Washington law firm of O'Melveny & Myers. According to his recently filed campaign disclosure report, O'Melveny received $500,000 on December 2 and another $70,000 on December 29. That money, raised from contributors to Cunningham's now-abandoned reelection bid, is in addition to funds that Cunningham is raising through a legal defense fund that the House Ethics Committee allowed him to set up in September; the Federal Election Commission, which regulates campaign financing, approved Cunningham's use of the campaign funds for defense purposes.

The balance of Cunningham's campaign expenditures of $769,254 went for such items as an April poll and miscellaneous office costs. On September 25, the campaign paid $3500 to Jamestown Associates of Princeton, New Jersey; the company's website says it's "a full service Republican political and public affairs consulting firm." Cunningham ended up refunding a total of $17,500 to disgruntled contributors such as the Cubic Corporation Employees PAC ($2000) and the American Sugar Beet Growers Association PAC ($1000). Individuals receiving refunds included retired book peddler Arthur Brody ($1000) and Washington lobbyist Nicholas Cavarocchi. None of Cunningham's biggest contributors, such as Titan Corporation PAC, which gave $10,000, and the Science Applications International Corporation Voluntary Political Action Committee, which kicked in $3000, received refunds. In October and December, Cunningham also paid out a total of $13,684 in "excess funds" to the National Republican Congressional Committee. During the last half of 2005, the embattled congressman took in total contributions of $245,435.

Only a few very loyal donors gave money to Cunningham's campaign fund after the Union-Tribune broke the story on June 12 of his having sold his house in a sweetheart deal to defense contractor Mitchell Wade. They included Solana Beach's Robert Liddington of the Burnham Institute, who gave $1000 on July 6; Carlsbad's Gregory Lucier, chairman and CEO of Invitrogen, $500 on July 6; and Rancho Santa Fe's John Reed, also of the Burnham Institute, $1000 on July 9.

Air Vargas The top special-interest group backing Democrat Juan Vargas's congressional primary challenge against Bob Filner is made up of insurance and finance companies that last year gave him a total of $42,280. Top donors included the American Bankers Association and the Pacific Life Insurance Company Political Action Committee, that each kicked in $5000. UnionBanCal and the Wells Fargo Employee PAC each wrote checks for $3000. In all, Vargas raised $579,727 last year; Filner, whose top donor group -- labor unions -- gave $165,250, took in a grand total of $1,027,354.

Individual backers of Vargas included airport authority chairman Joe Craver and financier John Chalker, whom many expect to lead the battle to move Lindbergh Field to Miramar over the objections of the Pentagon; Chalker's partner Luis Maizel; airport authority PR consultant Marlee Ehrenfeld; Pete Wilson stalwart John Davies; city hall lobbyist and downtown library backer Jim Dawe; Mike Aguirre opponent Leslie Devaney; and San Diego mayoral staffer Kris Michell.

Law and disorder When Jorge Hank Rhon, who has been linked by some U.S. law enforcement officials to Mexican drug gangs, was elected mayor of Tijuana in 2004, skeptics wondered what it meant for law and order in the sprawling border city. A week ago, 1500 protestors dressed in white said they had the answer: kidnappings and murders are way up. After that bout of bad PR, Hank has come up with a new gambit: a "Press Tour" next Wednesday to feature Tijuana's "progress in improving public security, infrastructure, housing, tourism and commercial industry."

According to an invitation, American reporters will be whisked to the border via free bus from the Santa Fe Depot. After a tour of a maquiladora plant, the journalists will be welcomed by the mayor to "the new Command Center of Tijuana's Municipal Police" and be taken to Revolución Avenue to meet Rogelio Arrendondo Guillén, "Sub General Commander & Chief of the Tourist Section and International Border for the new bilingual police." There is a final event: "With the purpose of having an interchange of fresh ideas with local communication media, luncheon will be hosted by Mayor Jorge Hank, at 'La Hacienda' restaurant in the Grand Hotel Tijuana, with musical entertainment provided by the Municipal Police Band 'Los Tenientes de Tijuana.' "

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