'The Culture of Corruption,' Cont'd
Flash back to this time two years ago, and the news was thick with allegations by Democrats that Republicans were practicing "the culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill. The charge ended up being a key plank in Democrats' national campaign efforts in 2006, and it paid off, as corruption allegations -- particularly the Mark Foley scandal -- played what most analysts agree was a key role in the GOP's drubbing that November.
In the wake of Tuesday's news that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has been indicted, it's worth asking whether history is about to repeat itself. Will Democrats again make corruption a major theme of their campaign efforts in 2008? And will it work again? As to the first question, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was asked about it yesterday, and he said: "I expect the campaign themes of '06 will be continued."
The second question is tougher to answer. The 109th Congress, after all, included the Foley House page scandal as well as the indictment and resignation of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the resignation and imprisonment of Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), the indictment and resignation (the imprisonment came in 2007) of Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and federal investigations into several other Republican members. On the Democratic side of the ledger, Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) saw his homes and offices raided by the FBI as part of a bribery investigation.
So what is the Hill Corrupt-o-Meter (no, it doesn't exist, but it should) showing for the 110th Congress? Let's recap the last 18 months:
June 2007: Jefferson is indicted on 16 federal counts including bribery, racketeering and money laundering. He is currently awaiting trial.
July 2007: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) admits to "a very serious sin in my past." He doesn't specify, but the reference appears to be to the fact that he appeared in the phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam, who later alleged that Vitter was indeed a client of her service. Vitter hasn't faced any criminal charges as a result of this revelation, and the Senate Ethics Committee dismissed a complaint against him because his alleged inappropriate behavior occurred before he was a member of the Senate.
August 2007: It is revealed that in June 2007, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested during a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Craig eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct charges, though he later proclaims his innocence and tries unsuccessfully to have his plea thrown out. After pressure from GOP leaders, Craig announces he will not run for reelection.
August 2007: Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) is charged with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly pushing an airline employee at Dulles Airport. He eventually cuts a deal with prosecutors in which he does not admit guilt but has to pay a small fine.
September 2007: Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) announces he won't run for reelection, just days after the Chicago Tribune raised questions about the lawmaker's Nicaraguan land deals.
January 2008: Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) announces he will not run for reelection amid an ongoing federal probe into his and his wife's connections to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Republican leaders, who were worried that they would lose his seat and pushed him to quit, breathe a sigh of relief.
February 2008: Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) is indicted by a federal grand jury on 35 counts, mostly related to federal land exchanges. He had already said he would run for reelection this year, and is now awaiting trial.
April 2008: Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who has already announced that he would retire at the end of the year, is admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee for having called the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico to ask about the status of a pending corruption investigation.
May 2008: Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) is arrested for driving drunk in Alexandria, Va. It's soon revealed that he had been going to visit his mistress, with whom he had fathered a child. After a few weeks, he announces he will retire at the end of the year. He is awaiting trial.
July 2008: In the course of a week, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) faces two different sets of ethical questions. One concerns his use of four rent-controlled apartments in New York City, and the other relates to an educational center bearing his name for which he actively raised money, using congressional stationery to set up meetings with donors. In an unusual move, Rangel asks the House ethics committee to investigate whether he violated the chamber's rules in either case.
July 2008: Stevens is indicted for allegedly making false statements on his financial disclosure reports regarding gifts he got from oil services firm Veco Corp. and its CEO. Stevens vows to fight the charges and says he will still run for re-election.
Notice any patterns here? One is that, as in the 109th Congress, there are wrongdoers on both sides of the aisle, but so far definitely more on the GOP side. The other is that, more so than in the 2006 cycle, many of the Republicans facing charges or allegations are planning to retire, with some of them receiving a quick push out the door from their leadership. Stevens, so far, still seems ready to stick around and fight and has not yet gotten a definitive shove from his party.
Will taking quick action against troubled members pay dividends for Republican leaders in November? Maybe so, but they'd obviously be better off not having to deal with some ethical allegation or another nearly every month. And there are other members not mentioned above, like Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), and Don Young (R-Alaska) who appear to be the subject of ongoing federal investigations (as does Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.).
How far will Democrats go in trying to capitalize on this campaign theme again? Democrats appear to have the wind at their backs and look poised to pick up seats in both chambers -- the only question being how many. Given that environment, the party may not feel the need to spend too much of their time or resources reminding the public of all the ethical problems on the other side of the aisle. The corruption issue looks more likely to really have an impact in a handful of individual races, like Stevens', than across the board. But it's unfortunate for the GOP -- which as the minority is trying to run on the importance of "change" on Capitol Hill -- that when it comes to getting into ethics trouble, it doesn't seem like much has changed at all.
UPDATE 10:30 AM: Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with all these scandals. Capitol Briefing should have included this prime example in the chronology above:
June 2008: Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) are reported to have received favorable mortgage terms from Countrywide Financial Corp. as part of a "Friends of Angelo" program, a VIP arrangement set up by CEO Angelo Mozilo. Both senators deny any wrongdoing and say that they didn't know they had received special breaks on their mortgages. The Senate Ethics Committee is currently investigating the matter.
Posted by: stop the fraud | July 31, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Singing Senator | July 31, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Patrick Huss | July 31, 2008 10:21 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: turtle | July 31, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: RedRat | July 31, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: True, True | July 31, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Earl Jones | July 31, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dr. Gene Nelson | July 31, 2008 6:07 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Martha | July 31, 2008 6:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: wendynyc | July 31, 2008 8:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: karela | July 31, 2008 11:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Albert Hatter | July 31, 2008 11:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jackmack74 | July 31, 2008 11:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jack Straw | August 1, 2008 6:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Poincelot | August 1, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Pericles | August 1, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jeff | August 1, 2008 6:41 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: KRItt | August 2, 2008 1:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: KRitt | August 2, 2008 2:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Gilbert E. Wyatt | August 3, 2008 9:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: elizabeth | August 6, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rodney Stich | August 17, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.