Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., may have used his political connections to get his wife a well-paying job at the Department of Education, according to a recent article in The New Republic.
Mr. Cunningham is serving an eight-year prison sentence, after pleading guilty in March to taking $2.4 million in bribes from two defense contractors.
Nancy Cunningham, 54, who has now separated from her husband, came to Washington in 2002, when she was named chief of staff to the assistant secretary for management at the Education Department, according to the story in the neoliberal political journal. It was written by Kitty Kelley, the controversial biographer of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Nancy Reagan, and the Bush family.
Ms. Cunningham told Ms. Kelley that she did not know her husband was a member of the House education appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Education Department’s budget, and therefore had a hand in approving her budgeted salary.
Still, she acknowledged in the article that her position was “a political appointment, pure and simple. … I had the prettiest office you’ve ever seen.” Her annual salary was $114,200, the magazine said in the Aug. 28 article.
Chad Colby, an Education Department spokesman, confirmed Ms. Cunningham’s job title and salary and said she spent 16 months at the department.
“Her appointment was based on her extensive experience from a 25-year career in education, both as a teacher and as an administrator,” Mr. Colby said last week. “She was an excellent employee.”
Ms. Cunningham holds two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in education, according to the article. She now serves in the 5,600-student Encinitas Union School District in California as an administrator of support services.
But some people have questioned whether she is fit for that job. “People are writing the school board to get me fired,” Ms. Cunningham told The New Republic.
The district’s superintendent, McLane King, said only that Ms. Cunningham has spent 27 years working in the district, serving as a teacher and administrator, among other jobs. “Nancy has continued to be of value,” Mr. King said.
Reached at her district office last week, Ms. Cunningham declined to discuss the matter with Education Week. “I wouldn’t be interested in talking to you,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week