About the Report
CREW's ninth report on congressional corruption names 17 members of Congress - 13 members who engaged in serious misconduct and four members whose transgressions brought them a dishonorable mention. Seven members are on the list for the first time this year, and 10 are returning. In fact, six—Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Don Young (R-AK), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—are on the list for at least the third time.
Why are we still talking about these six? If the Department of Justice (DOJ), the House and Senate ethics committees, and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) were doing their jobs, we wouldn't be. The glacial pace of investigations into misconduct means many cases have dragged on for years and some have been dropped entirely with no explanation, despite strong evidence. At least 11 separate individuals and companies associated with Rep. Buchanan, for example, have been fined for their involvement in making conduit contributions to his campaigns. Key witnesses have sworn Rep. Buchanan directed them to reimburse people for contributions, but the congressman implausibly has denied all knowledge and, incredibly, the FEC and DOJ have refused to act.
As for Rep. Young, the House Ethics Committee last March finally formed an investigative subcommittee to look into, among other things, his rampant personal use of campaign money—more than two and a half years after DOJ first referred his case to the committee. The delay is unconscionable, especially given the strength of the case against Rep. Young. Documents CREW received under the Freedom of Information Act provide evidence of the congressman’s criminal conduct, yet DOJ dropped the case and the ethics committee continues to sit on it.
In December 2012, the House Ethics Committee inexplicably decided to believe Rep. Meeks left a $40,000 loan off of his financial disclosure for three years because he didn’t know he had to disclose liabilities. The committee also accepted Rep. Meeks' story of misplacing the loan documentation, even though the person who "loaned" the congressman the money said such paperwork never existed. Apparently, if members are caught illegally pocketing cash, they need only claim to have made an honest mistake and the House Ethics Committee will take them at their word. The committee found the credibility of the lender, Edul Ahmad, insufficient against the word of Rep. Meeks because Mr. Ahmad had pled guilty to fraud charges in an unrelated case.
Apparently, the standards of witness credibility the House Ethics Committee laid down in the case of Rep. Meeks did not apply to the case of Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), which the committee dismissed outright last week. In that matter, the committee took into account the version of events offered by Rep. Tierney's brother-in-law, who was indicted on 442 counts in 2010 and is currently living in Antigua as a fugitive from justice. The committee noted this convicted felon's version of events corroborated that of the congressman and accepted the explanation.
The committee's review of three other matters—involving Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Tim Bishop (D-NY), and Peter Roskam (R-IL)—were extended indefinitely, though the committee stopped short of forming an investigative subcommittee, raising questions about how actively it is investigating. This ambiguous status leaves members of Congress in a prolonged limbo, under investigation but with no timetable for resolution. The public, meanwhile, is left with no answers and with clouds hanging over the heads of their members of Congress. Everyone deserves better.
In addition to the members who have been on the list before, the report documents offenses by seven members appearing for the first time. The chaotic presidential campaign of Rep. Bachmann, for example, led to wide-ranging allegations of illegal conduct against her and so far appears to have prompted investigations by five separate state and federal agencies. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) appears to have sponsored legislation to benefit his and his family's financial interests. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is on the list for accepting improper gifts and taking official action to benefit donors.
A December 2012 Rasmussen poll found 60 percent of likely U.S. voters already believed most members of Congress are willing to sell their votes for either cash or a campaign contribution, and 57 percent thought it likely that their representative had already done so. Unfortunately, as this year's report shows, some of them are correct. Congress must take steps to restore the public trust. The independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has brought new attention to ethics infractions in the House, but must be reauthorized with every new Congress. It should be put on a more permanent footing and allowed to issue subpoenas, and an equivalent office should be created to monitor the Senate.
The public has seen too many members of Congress get away with breaking the law. Now it's up to the public to stand with CREW and demand accountability.
To create this report, CREW reviewed media articles, OCE and House Ethics Committee reports, Federal Election Commission reports, court documents, and members' personal financial and travel disclosure forms. We then analyzed that information in light of federal laws and regulations, as well as congressional ethics rules.