Wilkes Defense to Raise ‘Business as Usual’ in Washington


The prosecution has rested in the trial of Brent Wilkes, the contractor on trial for bribing former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. The last paragraph of this Washington Post story notes that Wilkes’ defense will be that he was merely playing by the rules of the Congressional Favor Factory (now open 24 hours a day!):

[Wilkes’ attorney Mark] Geragos said in his opening statement that he plans to show that Wilkes was only doing business as it is normally done in Washington, not trading favors for contracts. He is set to begin calling witnesses on Thursday.

If that’s the case, I will be just as eager to read about the defense’s presentations as I was about the prosecution’s, which included details of expensive meals and trips to distant vacations spots, including Hawaii. If Geragos is looking for examples to back up his claim, he might want to check the Center for Responsive Politics’ travel database, available here, to see that members of Congress and their staff took more than 30 trips to Hawaii since July 2005 (when federal agents made headlines by raiding Cunningham’s home), 137 trips to Las Vegas, 23 trips to Jamaica, and 48 trips to Aspen, to name a few.

Which is not to say that everyone who takes a trip is in the same league as Cunningham (or that every sponsor a Brent Wilkes), but note that interest groups tend to sponsor travel of members who oversee their industries. For example, Rep. Collin Peterson (whose office has taken more trips than anyone else’s since CRP started keeping track) seems to travel on the dime of trade groups representing agricultural interests — 11 of the 14 trips he took were sponsored by groups like the Dairy Farmers of America, the American Sugar Alliance and the Texas Farm Bureau.

Peterson is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.