The times they don’t seem to be a changin’In President Obama’s State of the Union Speech Wednesday, he said that the American people “face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.” He ain’t kidding.
So we thought it would be appropriate to highlight a few of our public servants considered to be among the most corrupt. A few months ago Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released their list of the 15 most corrupt member of Congress. There are 12 congressmen on the list and three senators. Seven are Republicans and eight are Democrats, and all of them seem to have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.
The first on the list is a gentleman from the sunshine state…
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Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.)Rep. Buchanan owns several car dealerships in Florida and CREW alleges that he pressured his employees to make donations to his campaign, in some cases reimbursing them. “In one seven-day period, he raised $110,000 from employees of his numerous car dealerships,” CREW reports, adding that, “Joe Kezer, an employee of Sarasota Ford, also alleges that he was pressured to make a contribution and that as a further reward, Rep. Buchanan offered him the use of his vacation house in Vail, Colo. Aware that it might not be legal, but fearing for his job, Mr. Kezer made a contribution of $2,000 to Rep. Buchanan’s campaign committee.”
CREW also alleges that Buchanan used some of the cars from his dealerships for campaign purposes, which is a no-no, and the St. Petersburg Times reports that several of his former employees have sued the congressman for forcing them to make donations.
Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.)
Senator Burris, if you remember, came to power in the wake of the Rod Blagojevich scandal and currently occupies President Obama’s former Senate seat, having been appointed by the now disgraced and impeached Illinois governor. He was accused of trying to sell the Senate seat that Burris now enjoys and though Sen. Burris argues he is not tainted by his association with Blagojevich, CREW notes that he has offered three separate explanations for his appointment, all of which were under oath. A federal wiretap captures Sen. Burris telling the then governor’s brother that he was interested in the seat, could raise money for the governor and ultimately offered to “give him [Gov. Blagojevich] a check.”
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.)
This is the fourth year in a row that Rep. Calvert has been on CREW’s corruption list. Much of the critique stems from allegations that the congressman vigorously supported legislation that would benefit him financially. CREW cites the following case: “In 2005, Rep. Calvert and his real estate partner, Woodrow Harpole, Jr., paid $550,000 for a four acre piece of land... Less than a year after buying the land, without making any improvements to the parcel, they sold the property for $985,000, a 79% increase. During this period, Rep. Calvert pushed through an earmark to secure $8 million for an overhaul and expansion of a freeway interchange 16 miles from the property, as well as an additional $1.5 million for commercial development in the area.” There’s plenty more.
Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.)According to CREW, Rep. Deal has a side business which inspects salvaged vehicles for the state. He takes home about $150,000 a year, all the result of a no-bid state contract. Georgia’s Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham eventually was put in charge of the program and decided it was too expensive and wasteful. He decided that the contract for the work should be put up for bid, but Rep. Deal allegedly did not agree. CREW reports, “Rep. Deal and his staff, with assistance from Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, arranged meetings with Comm. Graham at which Rep. Deal and his chief of staff were present, to persuade him to reconsider his decisions, including the proposed elimination of $1.7 million that has been allocated for the program… Rep. Deal’s chief of staff used his House email to contact Georgia state officials in an effort to stop the plan from passing the state Senate. The money for the program was eventually kept in the budget.”
More recently, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported that “Republican gubernatorial hopeful Nathan Deal used campaign contributions to secure a $250,000 line of credit from a bank whose board chairman has ties to the Republican congressman.
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.)Sen. Ensign’s story is probably the most complicated, soap opera-esque on CREW’s list. It all stems from the fact that the senator had an affair with a woman on his staff. Turns out the both the woman and her husband, who also worked for the senator, were long-time friends of the Ensign and his wife.
Eventually, Sen. Ensign confessed to his wife and fired his mistress and her husband. He then allegedly arranged for a number of payments to the scorned family (after his ex-buddy and husband of his former mistress wrote a devastating letter to Fox News about the entire affair). The payments, more than $90,000, were made by Sen. Ensign’s parents.
Confused? So are we, but here’s the important part, courtesy of CREW: “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 … [and] in violation of campaign finance law.” Politico reports that the whole thing is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.)CREW also includes Rep. Jackson, son of the well-known civil rights leader, on the list because of his association with Gov. Blagojevich and the ensuing scandal. CREW said that Rep. Jackson, liken Sen. Burris, offered to raise lots of money for the governor if he was appointed to the seat.
They write, “The governor also claimed an ‘emissary’ from Rep. Jackson came to him and offered to raise a total of $1.5 million for his campaign should Rep. Jackson indeed be appointed to the vacant Senate seat.” The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating and the congressman is reportedly cooperating.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.)According to CREW, Rep. Lewis loves his family and friends. He really loves them. In fact, he loves them so much that he allegedly steered millions of dollars in government appropriations to them in exchange for campaign contributions. One of his purported friends with benefits is congressman turned lobbyist Bill Lowery.
According to CREW, “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.” And despite all this, Rep. Lewis is still very popular in France.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Sen. McConnell, who’s also the current minority leader, is also accused of using his position of power to help friends. CREW scrutinizes his relationship with Gordon Hunter Bates, who was once the senator’s chief of staff and is now a Kentucky lobbyist. According to CREW, Bates clients include, “Bates Capitol clients include: E-Cavern, Voice for Humanity, Appriss, Inc. and Boardpoint, LLC, all of which have received earmarks thanks to Sen. McConnell. In addition, the senator rewrote legislation to help another Bates Capitol client, UPS Inc. All of these companies have made substantial contributions to Sen. McConnell’s campaigns.”
Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W. Va.)Rep. Mollohan also allegedly steered public money to friends and family, but CREW says he also lied about his assets on official forms. “Between 2000 and 2004, Rep. Mollohan went from owning assets of less than $500,000, generating less than $80,000 in income in 2000, to at least $6.3 million in assets earning $200,000 to $1.2 million in 2004. As of 2005, Rep. Mollohan’s reported personal assets were worth at least $8 million and his liabilities were in excess of $3.43 million.” Hmmm. Seems sketchy.
CREW also points out that “Despite legal questions surrounding some of Rep. Mollohan’s previous earmarks, Rep. Mollohan requested a $1 million earmark to allow the Department of the Interior to expand a wilderness area abutting property owned by the congressman, thereby increasing his property’s value.” Very sketchy.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.)Rep. Murtha’s troubles stem from his relationships with various individuals and organizations tied to the defense industry, in particular the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group. The firm was accused of using “straw men” in order to direct campaign contributions to lawmakers on appropriations committees.
According to CREW, “Despite the investigations into PMA’s practices, lawmakers have continued to earmark for the firm’s former clients with Rep. Murtha requesting $16.2 million in earmarks for Parametric Technology Corporation, Ardiem Medical, MobileVox, DRS Technologies, and MTS Technologies. In exchange, these companies made contributions to Rep. Murtha’s campaign committee and PAC.”
CREW has also posted a really interesting interactive graphic which links Rep. Murtha to various factions players in this lobbying underworld.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.)
CREW’s coverage of Rep. Rangel reads like a laundry list of ethics violations. Some may seem a bit small time compared to the others listed here, but they are all distasteful. Here are some of the allegations: he’s been able to rent several New York apartments well below market rates, potentially in violation of New York City housing laws; he’s been storing an unlicensed, unregistered Mercedes in a congressional parking lot, and hasn’t paid a dime; he owns a villa in the Dominican Republic which he rents out but he hasn’t declared any of that rental income on his tax returns. And this one is really bad if it turns out to be true: “Rep. Rangel helped preserve a tax loophole benefitting Nabors Industries at the same time he was soliciting donations to the Rangel Center from the company’s chief executive.”
There’s an investigation underway, and as a result, Rep. Rangel has had to pony up $1 million in legal fees. Wonder how he can afford that?
Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.)Like many Americans these days, Rep. Richardson’s ethics troubles stem from mortgage problems. According to CREW, the congresswoman has defaulted on home loans at least eight times, failed to pay $9,000 in property taxes and her house has been sold into foreclosure. But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike most Americans, Rep. Richardson may have been able to secure special treatment from her bank.
According to CREW, “On June 2, 2008, Washington Mutual Bank, Rep. Richardson’s lender, filed a notice of rescission of the foreclosure sale. By that time, James York, the man who had purchased the Sacramento home, had already invested money cleaning up the house and preparing it for resale. As a result, Mr. York filed suit against Rep. Richardson and Washington Mutual, alleging that Rep. Richardson received preferential treatment from Washington Mutual because of her position as a member of Congress. In July 2008, Mr. York dropped his suit, allowing Rep. Richardson to reclaim the home.”
Beyond that, the house was reportedly in such a sorry state, that neighbors were forced to spend time and money cleaning it up, which may have been a breach of House gift rules if not disclosed.
Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.)Like Rep. Murtha, Rep. Visclosky’s troubles stem from his relationship with the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group.
According to CREW, “from 1998 through the end of 2008, Rep. Visclosky was the second highest recipient of donations from PMA Group lobbyists and the firm’s clients, with a total of $1,369,298. In 2008, the PMA Group was Rep. Visclosky’s number one campaign contributor. In exchange, the lawmaker rewarded PMA Group clients with millions in earmarks, at least $23 million in fiscal year 2008 and at least $10 million in fiscal year 2009.” And it gets worse. Read the rest of CREW’s coverage of Rep. Visclosky for more.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)According to CREW, Rep. Waters made an effort to secure TARP funds for banks with which she had a financial interest.
CREW writes, “In September 2008, Rep. Waters asked then-Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson to hold a meeting for minority-owned banks that had suffered from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac losses…. Officials of OneUnited Bank, one of the largest black-owned banks in the country, which also has close ties to Rep. Waters, attended the meeting … [and] used the meeting as an opportunity to ask for bailout funds… In December 2008, Rep. Waters intervened again, asking Treasury to host another meeting to ensure minority-owned banks received part of the $700 billion allocated under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Within two weeks, on December 19, 2008, OneUnited secured $12.1 million in bailout funds. Rep. Waters did not disclose her financial ties to OneUnited Bank to Treasury officials in her letters requesting meetings between regulators and bank officials.”
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)According to CREW, Rep. Young is another public servant who likes to take care of friends and family. “In the 109th Congress,” they wrote, “Rep. Young earmarked over $400 million dollars to Alaska for two bridges serving tiny populations of constituents. Rep. Young’s daughter, Joni Young, and his son-in-law, Art Nelson, own land near one of the proposed bridges and stand to profit if the project is completed.”
It looks like the controversy could very well hurt Rep. Young’s chances for reelection. The Alaska Dispatch reports, “Sheldon Fisher will announce his candidacy Thursday morning at the Anchorage Hilton. U.S. Rep. Don Young has stood as Alaska's lone congressman since 1973. He remained popular for years as an outspoken advocate of Alaska issues, but faltered among voters as federal corruption probes poked close to home.”
Is someone missing?
If there's a politician who you think for whatever reason should be on this list but isn't, please tell us all about it in the comments section. Remember, people: it's your country. They work for you.
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