Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! This is like Christmas morning for the political corruption fan! CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) just published its new new "Most Corrupt Members of Congress" list! It's actually dated yesterday -- I can't believe that I missed it!
This is, sad to say, a bad year from the Democrats. Of the fifteen names on the list, eight of them are followed by a "(D)". I suppose that this is in part a function of there just being so relatively few "(R)"s left in Congress -- proportionally, they are still more corrupt -- but still, this is not good news. With great power comes great responsibility, and that includes being responsible for ethics.
My greatest disappointment is that my own Representative, Gary Miller, is no longer on the list after three straight years of dishonor. He hasn't cleaned up his act, though, but has simply been supplanted by new wrongdoers, so I still hold out hope for 2010.
Let's meet the "winners," shall we?
Here's the list, with links to profiles of each:
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL)
Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL)
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA)
Sen. John Ensign (R-NV)
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV)
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA)
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY)
Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA)
Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN)
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)
Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
Because I'm a westerner, and because it lets me start with Don Young, I'm going to work from west to east, with a little north to south thrown in.
Rep. Don Young is so corrupt that CREW's front page includes two press stories about him; I'll quote the one from Mudflats:
Currently under investigation by the Department of Justice, Young has spent $1.1 million in legal fees even before the indictment which many feel is inevitable.
Rep. Young’s ethics violations stem from the misuse of his position to benefit family and friends and to steer millions of dollars in earmarks to corporations in exchange for contributions to his campaign committee and political action committee, Midnight Sun PAC (MSPAC). Rep. Young is currently under federal investigation for (1) his role in securing a $10 million earmark for a road in Florida; (2) assistance he offered to convicted VECO Corporation CEO Bill Allen; and (3) his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. At one time Rep. Young was being investigated for his financial relationship with convicted businessman Dennis Troha. Rep. Young was included in CREW’s 2007 and 2008 congressional corruption reports.
That makes this his third year in a row. And yes, we keep re-electing him. He’s up for his 20th term in 2010, facing former independent gubernatorial candidate Andrew Halcro, running as a Republican, and current Democratic Representative Harry Crawford.
We then come to California. Everything north of Los Angeles comes out unscathed, but we have big troubles in the Southland. The saddest of these, from my perspective, is Rep. Maxine Waters, who arranged meetings between Treasury officials and a bank with which she has financial ties. Given that this was one of the largest Black-owned banks in the country, I would like to think that she was acting out of ideological commitment rather than personal gain, but there are certainly grounds for further investigation -- if, I'd set the condition, her fellow Californians are also included.
Moving south, we come to Laura Richardson. Her situation with houses and foreclosures and mortgage payments is a mess; this is a woman who should have spent her entire life as a renter and she'd be much happier. You can read about it at the link. I'll just quote one paragraph from her profile, about a house she owns in Sacramento, just because it's so interestingly sordid:
Rep. Richardson’s housing issues have continued to plague the Sacramento neighborhood where one of her homes is located. In 2008, the Sacramento Code Enforcement Department declared her home a “public nuisance.” After visits to the home, city inspectors reported they found junk and debris in the driveway and rotting fruit in the backyard, attracting rodents. In May 2009, after neighbors complained about the home’s overgrown yard, the city posted another violation requiring that the lawn be mowed. The lawn was mowed but issues with the upkeep of the house did not end. Neighbors e-mailed and wrote letters complaining about the state of the home to Rep. Richardson and to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to no avail. Eventually, neighbors began taking care of the house themselves: paying gardeners to mow the lawn, water plants, and rake leaves.
Honestly -- and I don't say this just because a onetime friend of mine lost to her in the special election when she took office -- the Long Beach area has a lot of politicians who could represent the district without making one think of vermin.
Speaking of vermin -- with Gary Miller elbowed out of his customary spot, here are the other two legs of the Stool of Corruption in adjoining districts in and around the Inland Empire of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties: Ken Calvert and Jerry Lewis! Calvert is -- really, what can one say? Click the link up above. Here's a taste:
Rep. Calvert’s ethics issues stem from (1) his use of earmarks for personal gain; (2) his illegal land purchase; and, (3) his connections to a lobbying firm under investigation. Rep. Calvert was included in CREW’s 2006, 2007, and 2008 reports on congressional corruption.
Calvert's record of corruption is one of the few that may actually get him in trouble. His 2008 challenger, Bill Hedrick came within an eyepatch (hi, Mike Duvall!) of surprising everyone except his team by beating him. Hedrick is already making money off of the new CREW list; you can help celebrate Calvert's four-for-four "Most Corrupt" record -- "he can't be stopped, he can only be contained!" (hi, Keith Olbermann!) -- by donating to Hedrick here.
Jerry Lewis, another four-time dishonoree and the ranking Republican member of the Appropriations Committee -- because who wouldn't want one of the most corrupt members of Congress to head their party's contingent on the Appropriations Committee? -- does his corruption the old-fashioned way: he steers earmarks of public money to family and friends in exchange for contributions. As CREW says:
Rep. Lewis has a close relationship with lobbyist and former Congressman Bill Lowery, and his lobbying firm, formerly known as Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White (“Copeland Lowery”). As then-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Lewis approved hundreds of millions of dollars in federal projects for Mr. Lowery’s clients. In exchange, Mr. Lowery, his partners and their spouses contributed $480,000 to Rep. Lewis’ campaign committee and Future Leaders PAC between 2000 and 2005, often giving the maximum contribution allowed under law.
Despite the continued scrutiny of his earmarking activities, Rep. Lewis has continued to request earmarks for Mr. Copeland and Ms. White’s clients at IFS. In 2008, Rep. Lewis sponsored $55 million in earmarks for IFS clients. In 2009, he requested more than $218 million in earmarks, nearly half of which – $102 million – was designated for projects of IFS clients.
Rep. Lewis is also under investigation because of his dealings with Brent Wilkes, the same contractor who went to jail for bribing former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA). After Rep. Cunningham pleaded guilty, Rep. Lewis resisted an independent investigation of Rep. Cunningham’s activities on the Appropriations Committee, stating that his own personal informal review of Rep. Cunningham’s earmarks was satisfactory and that the earmarks Rep. Cunningham doled out were legitimate.
He can't be stopped or contained! He can only be indicted!
Next door in Nevada, Sen. John Ensign made the list. Nothing interesting to say here. Just foolin'! I'll just cut to the chase; click the link if you need to be reminded how John Ensign considers other men's wives his rightful due:
Sen. Ensign originally indicated he went public because he was being extorted. He later admitted, however, that he went public because he had learned Mr. Hampton had written to FOX News with details of the affair, asking the network to investigate the matter and downgraded the alleged extortion to a legal demand.
If, as it appears, Mr. and Ms. Hampton were discharged directly because of Ms. Hampton’s affair with the senator, Sen. Ensign may have engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Senate Rules. Additionally, the payments to the Hamptons may have been an unreported, illegal, excessive in-kind contribution to Ensign for Senate and Battle Born PAC in violation of campaign finance law.
Our next stop as we head west is the Midwest, where three Democrats are taking their lumps. Sen. Roland Burris -- no, never heard of him, move on. (Click the link if you've been in a cave for the past year.) Jesse Jackson Jr. makes the list for his own suspicion of improper overtures to former Governor Rod Blagojevich as he attempted to get the Senate seat. The bottom line on him is:
Rep. Jackson has denied any wrongdoing and says he is cooperating with both investigations. In the first half of 2009, his campaign committee paid $18,697 in legal fees in addition to $100,000 paid in December 2008.
One can hope for the best. Next door in Indiana, Peter Visclosky, an Appropriations Subcommittee Chair, is under investigation for allegedly trading earmarks for contributions based on his close tied to the PMA Group -- "a now defunct lobbying firm, founded by former House Appropriations Committee aide, Paul Magliocchetti." You know that joke about how a guy comes into the doctor's office and says "Doc, it hurts when I do this" and the doctor says "Don't do that!" Democrats: don't do that.
Skipping over Ohio -- and despite my having a degree from Michigan I am not going to make the joke that I am thinking and that I hope that all of you are thinking as well -- we come to West Virginia and Allen Mollohan. Read the piece -- it's more earmarks shenanigans, mostly and is not pretty. Maybe he's not the perfect choice to chair an Appropriations Subcommittee.
Next door in Pennsylvania is John Murtha. What can be said, what need be said? He has been heroic at times, but perhaps we should not get too attached to him. He also has deep ties to the PMA Group and to the defense industry, and that seems not to serve one well if one wishes not to be on this list.
Finishing the northern tier of dishonorees is Charles Rangel, who always reminds me, when I hear him, of Ralph Kramden. (Ask your grandparents.) Rangel stands accused largely of nest-feathering -- vacation villas, trips, and sundry other things -- less than selling influence. Still, it may be nearing the time when it's time for him to retire while he can.
This leaves the South -- and our first stop on this grand tour is the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell! McConnell -- who is to pale what his House counterpart John Boehner is to tan -- has a series of earmarks issues of his own, which may be the least colorless thing about him.
Traveling to Georgia, we see Nathan Deal, who has "abuse[d] his position and taxpayer resources to maintain a personally lucrative business deal." He did this on behalf of his own business, though, rather than for some contributors. How entrepreneurial!
Finally, in Florida, we come to Vern Buchanan -- yes, the "voting machines" guy -- who owns several car dealerships in Florida and, well, according to CREW, he pressured his employees to donate to his campaign. As if it's not bad enough being a car salesman as it is! He also made "improper use of corporate resources for campaign purposes." Rep. Buchanan is now a two-time CREW dishonoree. His interests include selling cars and pressuring employees.
Among the most enjoyable diversions on the CREW site is the "Where Are They Now?" feature, which gives updates on CREW's previous "winners." If you want to know what happened to your Member of Congress -- including great memories like Duke Cunningham, John Doolittle, Vito Fossella, Katherine Harris, Bob Ney, Rick Renzi, John Sweeney, Conrad Burns, Pete Dominici, Rick Santorum, and Ted Stevens -- here's your resource!
And if you absolutely have to thank CREW for their efforts with a contribution -- I swear, I get no personal benefit from this! -- you can do so here.