In the 1986 movie “Top Gun,” Tom Cruise played the part of an ace fighter pilot. Cruise’s character was based on Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a genuine ace, highly decorated for his exploits in the Vietnam War. Following the war, he was an instructor in the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as TOPGUN. Cunningham parlayed his twenty-year Navy career into election to the U.S. House, representing California’s 50th Congressional District in San Diego County.
Cunningham resigned from Congress in 2005 after pleading guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors in his position on the Defense Appropriations Committee. He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion. His sybaritic lifestyle ended when he was sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to pay $1.8 million in restitution.
Cunningham’s antics were so flagrant and epic in scale, the Talking Points Memo, a liberal-oriented blog with a predilection for strong documentation in its factual reporting, named its annual awards for political corruption in Duke’s honor. 2016 is the tenth year of the Golden Duke Awards. The categories are:
- Best Scandal — General Interest
- Best Scandal — Sex & Generalized Carnality
- Best Scandal — Local Venue
- Meritorious Achievement in the Crazy
- Outstanding Achievements in Embracing Diversity
- Most Accurate Citations of Fake News
- Craziest Campaign Ads
Here are the 2016 nominees. TPM will announce winners at the end of the year.