A cloud of controversy is surrounding U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray these days.
The North County Republican, who represents the 50th District, was the sponsor of the Congressional Cigar Association, founded as a stogie-puffing, bipartisan meeting ground for House staffers. Now, though, the group is under fire after reports that three lobbyists are on its board of directors.
Rocky Patel, a prominent Florida-based cigar-maker, has come to Bilbray's defense, but Bilbray's Democratic challenger, Francine Busby, says the cigar club really was created to give lobbyists access to key congressional staffers.
"There is no other reason for those lobbyists to be on the board of that association, no other reason for lobbyists to be funding these lavish, expensive receptions and events," Busby said.
Busby wants an investigation.
A Bilbray spokesman released the following statement:
"Congressman Bilbray believes that this group, which must abide by the rules and ethics of the House of Representatives, is the best way to ensure a forum -- of both the House and Senate -- where staff from both Democrat and Republican offices can have open and bipartisan discussions on the issues of agriculture, trade, jobs and immigration."
Bilbray staffers said the congressman told the group to rid its leadership of lobbyists.