Ethics problems abound for Calif. House members

By Erica Werner, The Associated Press
Article Launched: 06/10/2007 12:00:00 AM PDT

WASHINGTON - Hollywood party girls don't have a monopoly on trouble in California. A disproportionate number of the state's congressional Republicans are facing ethics questions that threaten to sink their careers and their party's political fortunes too.

Of 201 House Republicans, at least six are known to have attracted the attention of federal investigators - and four are from California. Their woes come in the wake of the lurid corruption scandal that sent ex-GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of San Diego to prison last year for taking $2.4 million in bribes.

Although their situations have a few common threads, some analysts attribute the cluster of California cases to coincidence, plus the state's large size and district lines drawn to protect incumbents.

"When your seat is so safe that you're not concerned about perception, you become too wedded to Washington and you lose touch with your constituency, and you lose touch with your real purpose," said Karen Hanretty, a Republican strategist and former California Republican Party spokeswoman.

Rep. John Doolittle, a nine-term Northern California conservative under investigation in the influence-peddling scandal around jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has his own theory about why federal corruption investigations seem to be concentrated in California.

"I think it's part of this manufactured culture of corruption that the Democrats have come up with and they decided to, given what's happened with Duke Cunningham, they decided that California Republicans on the Appropriations Committee would be a great place to start," said Doolittle, who plans to seek re-election next year.

The ethics cloud is discouraging the party faithful who've already watched the GOP shrink to minority status in California. And they add to the dilemmas of Republican strategists aiming to retake Congress next year following election losses blamed partly on GOP ethics problems.

"There is a sort of feeling among Republican activists who work hard to elect Republicans of, `What the heck is going on here?"' said Los Angeles GOP analyst Allan Hoffenblum.

Republican Rep. Richard Pombo was chairman of the House Resources Committee when he lost in a GOP-leaning Central California district last November amid questions about his ties to Abramoff.

That reduced the number of Republicans in the nation's largest congressional delegation to 19, the lowest since their numbers shrank from 24 once district lines were redrawn after the 2000 census.

There are 33 Democrats from California, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, and none are known to be facing active FBI scrutiny. A 34th California Democratic seat is vacant after the cancer death in April of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald.

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