Source: San Diego Union-Tribune. December 15, 1997, p. A-3.
by DANA WILKIE
DANA WILKIE covers Washington for Copley News Service.
With his credentials as former ace fighter pilot and “Top Gun” inspiration, one simply expects that in his capacity as a congressman, Randy “Duke” Cunningham would concern himself with all matters military.
The affable North County Republican, for instance, effuses about a San Diego software company that recently won a lucrative Defense Department contract to convert paper records to electronic files, principally because the company’s work will help the Pentagon save money.
But to others involved in the same project, Cunningham’s enthusiasm went beyond cost-saving zeal and regional promotion. They say he helped direct $3.2 million worth of military business to ADCS Inc. — the company of a campaign contributor — despite Pentagon assessments that others had superior products.
How directly and passionately did the congressman pressure the Pentagon on behalf of ADCS, a company run by Brent Wilkes, who gave Cunningham $2,000 for his last re-election and who frequently attends Cunningham’s fund-raising events?
Cunningham says he merely talked up a company that he felt had the best software.
Others say he pressed those in the office of deputy undersecretary of defense to go with Wilkes’ company, using as a stick his ties with military brass and his position in 1996 on the House National Security Committee.
Most of those who say this won’t allow their names to be used, since the congressman now sits on the even more powerful House Appropriations Subcommittee on National Security.
Cunningham says anyone, including a reporter, who dares paint his actions as anything but aboveboard “can go to hell.”
But Don Lundell, a former executive with one of ADCS’ competitors, recollects that Cunningham actively promoted ADCS. Lundell was with Audre Inc., another San Diego software company, now in bankruptcy proceedings.
Audre’s software was the highest rated among five products the Defense Department evaluated for the document-conversion work, beating ADCS in one report by several hundred points. Firms scored anywhere form a few hundred points to 1,424 — Audre’s total.
So why did the Pentagon go with ADCS? A Pentagon official has only a vague memory about the rationale, and declines to be identified.
“I’ve scratched my head over that,” Lundell says, “and the only answer I can come to is that there may have been some political pressures. I know that Mr. Wilkes has been very active in campaign financing activities” for Cunningham.
Wilkes says that it is easy to misread the Defense Department’s evaluation, and that the Audre software had drawbacks.
“Audre won in categories I would equate with glove box and tire sizes,” said Wilkes, whose business partner, Randall Kerley, gave Cunningham $500 for his last re-election. “But in terms of cost, ease and speed, we willed them.”
Wilkes acknowledged Cunningham’s support but added that the congressman once did the same for Audre, whose top executive gave Cunningham $2,800, the majority for his 1994 re-election.
Was the Pentagon leery that Audre was in bankruptcy court? A Pentagon official says it was. On the other hand, the September 1995 bankruptcy filing didn’t prevent the Defense Department from including Audre in its 1996 evaluation, awarding it top marks for its software and then giving the company other document-conversion work.
Regardless of who had the better product, the issue may be whether Cunningham should have used his clout to promote any company run by a campaign contributor.
Cunningham said he did promote ADCS, but also told the Pentagon to go with a different company if it found one better.
Said the congressman, “I’m on the side of the angels here.”
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Union-Tribune Publishing Co.