The DeLay Wannabes

Amid all the turmoil over House ethics rules and Tom DeLay's expanding assortment of scandals, the embattled majority leader's Republican minions quickly resorted to the old “everybody does it” defense.

“The things that Tom has been criticized about in one way or another every member of Congress could be criticized about,” declares Majority Whip Roy Blunt. Fortunately, that's a considerable exaggeration. But several members of Congress have shown themselves, like DeLay, to be more inclined than most of their colleagues to push the ethical envelope.

Although public outrage in April forced the Republican leadership to repeal the rigged rules designed to protect DeLay, the House Ethics Committee should look hard at other alleged miscreants, including the three Republicans and one Democrat whose cases are detailed below. How likely is that? Now stacked with compliant Republicans tied financially to DeLay, the long-dormant ethics panel is even more flaccid since Speaker Dennis Hastert booted off three GOP members who dared vote to admonish DeLay last year. With tensions rising, tit-for-tat partisan complaints could suddenly explode, leading to an “ethics war,” but there's still little reason to expect a genuine crackdown.

With the new committee members commencing their probe of DeLay, the next investigative target on their agenda should be Representative Robert Ney, who appears to have colluded with Jack Abramoff's infamous Indian lobbying scam.

After the ethics process collapsed completely last winter, veteran ethics watchdog Fred Wertheimer of the nonpartisan Democracy 21 said that Capitol Hill was “functioning like the Wild West again, where there are no rules.” Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington compared the Republican leadership's removal of independent-minded members from the House Ethics Committee to a “mob hit.”

So this is the United States Congress today, sounding less like the deliberative center of the world's oldest democracy than a gritty new HBO series that combines elements of Deadwood and The Sopranos, peopled by the hustlers and con men of a David Mamet drama. Call it Sleaze in the City.

Without real ethics enforcement, some legislators will continue to regard DeLay as their role model. The following four and the runners-up (see sidebar) deserve special recognition -- and, in certain instances, criminal investigation.

Representative Robert Ney

THE SUPER-LOBBYIST'S “FRIEND”

Take pity on poor Bob Ney, who insists he's just another victim of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public-relations consultant Michael Scanlon. Unlike the half-dozen Indian tribes that paid about $82 million to that scamming duo, however, the U.S. representative at least got campaign donations and a lavish trip to Scotland's legendary St. Andrew's golf course out of them. Whether he got more than that is now a matter of interest to Justice Department investigators, according to a knowledgeable source who says that the probers are seeking to discover whether Ney received any illegal donations from Abramoff.

An affable, 50-year-old conservative Republican from Ohio, Ney portrays himself as a “dupe” of Abramoff and Scanlon, the pair of rapscallions targeted by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Justice Department for their alleged defrauding of tribes seeking increased clout.

Both Abramoff and a lawyer for Scanlon have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Yet the lobbyists' operation looks like such a breathtaking scam that it stuns even veteran observers of Washington scandals. Last November, the Indian Affairs Committee detailed how they took $4.2 million from the Tigua tribe of El Paso, Texas, while doing little to help reopen the tribe's casino with federal legislation that Ney had ostensibly championed. Abramoff and Scanlon had previously worked with the cherubic religious-right consultant Ralph Reed to prod Texas authorities to shut down the Tigua casino and another sought by a Houston-area tribe, while using at least $4 million of a rival Louisiana tribe's money. When they began the subsequent wooing of the Tigua tribe in early 2002, Abramoff wrote to Scanlon, “I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!!”

And so they did, even as Abramoff derided the Indians as “moronic” -- and worse -- in his e-mail messages.

The working-both-sides ploy wouldn't have been possible, though, without the false but soothing reassurances offered to the Tigua tribe by Representative Ney as chairman of the House Administration Committee. Thanks to Abramoff, Ney received more than $30,000 in campaign donations from the Tigua tribe. In August 2002, he was also treated to a trip to Scotland -- plus travel on a private jet -- costing at least $100,000 that included the St. Andrew's golf jaunt. Along for the ride were Abramoff, Reed, and Neil Volz, a former top Ney staffer working for Abramoff. All expenses were paid by Abramoff's tribal clients, but reported by Ney as the largesse of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

House rules forbid members from accepting trips from lobbyists. But last March the Ohio congressman said that Abramoff had fooled him, claiming the lobbyist told him that the trip was paid for by the center, which has denied any role in that junket. (The center did acknowledge sponsoring two earlier DeLay trips.)

Ney first tested his “innocent victim” line after the Senate hearings on the Tigua fraud. Attacking Abramoff and Scanlon as “nefarious individuals,” he proclaimed, “I, like these Indian tribes and other members of Congress, was duped by Jack Abramoff.” He explained that the lobbyist had invited him “to go on a trip to Scotland, which Mr. Abramoff said would help support a charitable organization that he founded, through meetings with Scottish Parliament officials.”

That charitable outfit was the Capital Athletic Foundation, an Abramoff front. Why Ney would have to go golfing in Scotland or visit the Parliament there to assist an American-based charity remains an unsolved mystery -- as does his interest in sponsoring legislation for a Texas tribe far from his rural Ohio district.

But Abramoff and his associates had raised money for Ney from 2000 through 2003, providing the use of a luxury skybox at Washington's MCI Center to host a fund-raising event, as first reported by The Washington Post. The helpful congressman had also supported Abramoff and Adam Kidan, the lobbyist's business partner, in their effort to buy a Florida gambling cruise line. The sale went through, but the cruise line's original owner was later killed gangland-style after fighting with Kidan, who has alleged ties to organized crime. Ney has since claimed that he was misled about Kidan's background, too.

Ney says that he came to support the Tigua gaming provision because Abramoff told him that Senator Chris Dodd had agreed to include it in the unrelated Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Dodd, a co-sponsor of HAVA, was an implausible ally for the Tigua, as the Democrat was actually opposing efforts by Indian tribes to rapidly expand gambling in his home state of Connecticut. While e-mail records prove that Ney was backing the Tigua measure as early as March 2002, he said he didn't approach Dodd until the following July.

“I … personally asked Senator Dodd about this provision, and he expressed no knowledge of it,” Ney later asserted. “In short, I had been misled by Jack Abramoff … . The matter was then closed from my perspective.”

But Ney's various statements about his involvement with the Tigua and with Abramoff are misleadingly vague and often false. (His press spokesman declined to respond to questions from the Prospect.) Tribal representatives and the Senate investigation both paint a far more disturbing picture of his continuing cooperation with the Abramoff scam.

In February 2002, Abramoff and Scanlon signed up the tribe as a client, trading in part on their close ties to DeLay and on Abramoff's claim that he would work for free to win the tribe's business later. By March, Abramoff had enlisted the Ohio congressman. As he told Scanlon in an e-mail: “Just met with Ney!!! We're f'ing gold!!! He's going to do Tigua.” A week later, Abramoff wrote to Texas-based lobbyist Marc Schwartz, explaining that the tribe needed to contribute to Ney's campaign and political action committees -- and tribal leaders soon forked over $32,000. By April, Scanlon indicated to Schwartz that Dodd was on board, too.

Soon, however, the congressman required still more favors. In June, Abramoff wrote to Schwartz again: “Our friend [Ney] asked if we could … cover a Scotland golf trip for him and some staff … and members in August,” just like the trip DeLay had taken two years earlier. Briefing Scottish parliamentarians about an American charity doesn't seem to have been a top priority of Ney's trip (although he did actually visit the Parliament in Edinburgh for what a staffer there describes as a “brief courtesy call”).

Abramoff asked the Tigua to pay $100,000 toward the golf outing, but the tribe's leaders declined to do so because they'd already spent so much on payments to Scanlon (who secretly shared the loot with Abramoff). Instead, the Tigua arranged for another Houston-area tribe that would benefit from the legislative language to contribute to the trip.

Even as Dodd's election-reform bill languished in Congress during the summer, Abramoff and Scanlon reassured the Tigua's representatives that great strides were being made on their measure. Ney echoed those cheery assessments when he returned from his jaunt to Scotland and met with tribal leaders in mid-August, keeping the deception going.

The tribe was also asked to be discreet. Abramoff urged its leaders not to mention to Ney their role in funding his trip. As he wrote to Schwartz: “BN had a great time and is very grateful but is not going to mention the trip to Scotland for obvious reasons. He said he'll show his thanks in other ways, which is what we want.”

At the August meeting, Ney hosted the Tigua leaders, almost bursting with pride as they were ushered into a conference room to meet such an important congressman. He exuded upbeat confidence in their provision's prospects, less than one month after he had learned that Dodd didn't support the measure and wouldn't attach it to the HAVA bill. They were especially surprised when Ney thanked them for the trip. Early on, says Schwartz, “He thanked us for our participation and assistance in the trip. We were taken aback.” Although Ney eventually claimed he was upset at having been duped by Abramoff, he effusively praised the lobbyist during the Tigua meeting, as Schwartz testified in the Senate hearing.

Most critically, according to Schwartz and Tigua leader Carlos Hisa, Ney told the tribal representatives that all the major players, such as Dodd, were on board for their measure.

“I've had several conversations with Dodd,” Schwartz says Ney told them, “Your measure is taken care of.” He urged patience, but added reassuringly, “Senator Dodd and I are committed to this.”

He certainly never told the Tigua representatives that Dodd didn't support their measure and that it wouldn't be attached to HAVA. As the disenchanted Schwartz charges, “Bob Ney has got to be at the center of this. There can't be the perpetuation of a fraud of the Tigua tribe unless Bob Ney has that meeting with us.”

Ney went on and on for well over an hour, schmoozing with his guests and praising free enterprise. At the end, he even walked them out so that they could use the reserved members' elevator. “That last act sealed the deal,” recalls Schwartz. “He was very friendly and won us over.” Today, Schwartz says, “To raise the hopes of a tribal people when he knew the deal was dead leaves me no doubt that he is a heartless individual devoid of integrity.”

The hopes of the Tigua evaporated in October 2002, when Abramoff called to say that Dodd had purportedly decided to renege on his support of the tribe's legislation, supposedly out of anger that his own bill to reform Connecticut tribal recognition was defeated in the Senate.

The Dodd bill provided a perfect cover story -- and in his best David Mamet tough-guy style, Abramoff called Schwartz to complain. “Dodd fucked us!” he said. “Ney is fuming that the bastard went back on his word. We were fucked by a Democrat!” He then urged Schwartz and the tribal officials to scramble to find other legislators who could persuade Dodd to support the measure, but those last-ditch efforts failed.

Dodd's supposed support was always a phony tale that Ney and Abramoff sold to the Indians. At the Senate hearing last year on the Tigua mess, Dodd released a statement explaining that he hadn't even learned about the Tigua proposal until very late in the process. “Congressman Ney's staff,” said the senator, “did approach my office during the waning hours of negotiations over the HAVA legislation to inquire whether recognition provisions for the Tigua tribe could be included in the bill. The suggestion was summarily rejected.”

Nevertheless, a few days after the crushing October defeat for the tribe, Abramoff arranged for Ney to speak to the tribal council by conference call to offer his condolences for the legislative failure. Schwartz says that Ney told the council about a supposed conversation with Dodd. “I begged him to put it back in,” said Ney. “I'm apologizing for us in Congress, but he went back on his word. I was so disappointed. … I almost decided to let election reform die.” He vowed to continue to work on the issue. (A Ney spokesman told The Hill newspaper, “The congressman has no recollection of that conference call.”)

A source familiar with the Justice Department probe says that federal authorities are investigating Ney's role in the scheme and asking whether Abramoff arranged payment of any illegal contributions or gratuities to him. This confirms previously published reports by Newsweek and The New York Times, which indicated that the Justice Department is seeking to determine whether Abramoff “improperly” provided contributions and gratuities to lawmakers and staffers “in exchange for legislative favors.”

Looking back on the Tigua quest to restore the tribe's $60-million-a-year casino, Hisa says there was no way that he and his fellow tribal leaders could have known that they were being scammed.

“We trusted people in Washington,” he says now.

Evidently Bob Ney shouldn't have been one of them.

Representative Joe Barton

WESTAR'S WHOLLY OWNED SUBSIDIARY
Special interests seeking political favors from politicians who want contributions rarely express their legislative desires in explicit terms. Being too obvious risks violating House ethics rules, as well as federal anti-bribery statutes, so discretion is maintained while money and favors flow.

There are, however, occasional exceptions to this prudent custom. Take the Westar Energy case, which stems from the Kansas company's grossly venal -- and probably illegal -- donations to various members of Congress and their political committees in 2002. Near the center of the Westar scandal is Joe Barton, now the chairman of the House Energy Committee, who inserted a special exemption from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules on the company's behalf, working with various legislators including the ubiquitous DeLay.

For pure blatancy, Westar's pay-for-play scheme was extraordinary in the recent history of congressional influence peddling. “You don't tie the legislation directly to the money,” as Melanie Sloan observes. And you don't write it all down, either. But the company's politically inexperienced executives did both.

Westar's plan to purchase legislative favors was revealed in a series of e-mails excavated during an internal corporate inquiry that followed the announcement of criminal investigations of the company. (Two Westar executives face a retrial for allegedly looting the company; Westar is also under indictment by District Attorney Ronnie Earle in the DeLay Texas PAC case; and the company's former CEO has been sentenced to four years in prison for bank fraud.)

Those internal documents have also served as the basis for letters by Public Citizen to the Justice Department asking for a criminal investigation of alleged bribery violations by Barton and others. “They asked for the contributions to be made, and the special exemption got inserted over the objections of the SEC,” charges Craig Holman of Public Citizen. The Justice Department hasn't taken any action so far.

A Barton spokesman declined requests for comment, but in a June 2004 interview with Roll Call, the Texas Republican asserted, “I can state emphatically that there was never any discussion about doing this for Westar because they were raising money for Republican causes or Tom DeLay or myself … .”

But those e-mails between Westar's lobbyists and executives flatly contradict his alibi.

The blunt-spoken Barton was the right man to serve Westar's interests in Congress. After trying to slash regulation of polluters who gave $800,000 to his campaign war chest, critics nicknamed him “Smoky Joe.” The Westar provision was a different form of deregulation -- a complex sec exemption that could earn its executives millions in stock sales when the company split up, while costing customers billions to cover the utility's new debts.

Westar sought to buy influence on the upcoming energy-bill conference committee by contributing more than $56,000 to influential lawmakers and their favored candidates. The company spelled out its strategy in May 2002 internal memos that explained how to get a “seat” at the conference-committee table and spelled out the dollar amounts demanded by Barton and others. The executives and lobbyists responded by opening their checkbooks.

At first, the infusion of cash bought the provision that they wanted. On September 18, 2002, Barton successfully placed the Westar loophole in the House conference version of the energy bill. A little more than a week later, however, Westar became as radioactive as a nuclear dump when its corporate officers received a grand-jury subpoena. By October, even House Republicans who had glommed Westar's money decided that the sec exemption looked bad, and they withdrew the language from the controversial energy bill.

Unlike some other legislators, Barton apparently didn't even give the money back. And he doesn't seem likely to face any consequences for his unethical conduct.

“Barton is getting away with it,” says Sloan.

Representative Curt Weldon

DADDY DELIVERS FOR DAUGHTER

In Washington, nepotism can be just another way to cash in political favors. Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Karen Weldon, a novice 30-year-old publicist with little experience in foreign policy, had won handsome PR and consulting contracts worth $1 million from at least three foreign clients -- all of whom have been aided by her father, Curt Weldon, a congressional expert on Eastern Europe and vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“To me, this looks like a scheme to feather the nest of his daughter,” Gary Ruskin, the director of the Congressional Accountability Project, told The Philadelphia Inquirer last year. “It looks like … you stick money in Karen Weldon's pocket and you get results.” More recently, a Weldon press aide said, “The congressman believes it is improper to comment on this informal investigation until it is resolved” by the House Ethics Committee. That was a reference to a preliminary investigation, opened last year, that few observers expect will be resumed.

When the Karen Weldon story broke, her father's office explained that she is a public-relations specialist and not a lobbyist. Weldon's chief of staff, Mike Conallen, insisted that she has never lobbied Congress or the executive branch. According to Conallen, her father absolutely forbids her from having business contacts with his office (and if she disobeys, perhaps he'll ground her).

“These are very serious conflicts of interest,” says Sloan, who sent a letter to the Justice Department last year asking for an investigation to determine whether Weldon had violated federal bribery law by using his office to benefit companies that hired his daughter.

Certainly Solutions North America Inc., her tiny company, has scored some lucrative clients. Among the spoils is a $240,000 contract from a wealthy Serbian family that financially aided Slobodan Milosevic, currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague. She got the contract after her father praised the Serbian moguls as humanitarians and backed efforts by two family members to win U.S. visas from the State Department, which has refused them entry.

When not flacking for Milosevic cronies, Karen Weldon's firm also represented a Russian aerospace manufacturer for a hefty $20,000 a month, plus 10 percent of any new business generated. That was when Representative Weldon went to work, successfully pitching the company's drone plane to the U.S. Navy, according to the Los Angeles Times. (Ultimately, though, Solutions North America didn't get the finder's fee earned by all that effort.)

For years the Pennsylvania Republican has championed the sale of Russian fuel to the United States. But even jaded political observers were surprised when his daughter's company landed a $500,000 promotional contract from a Russian energy firm around the same time that he was co-hosting a swank dinner for the company. He had earlier backed its campaign to get an $868,000 Siberian gas-exploration grant from the federal government.

To Karen Weldon, ethical questions are unfair. “Because of who he is, people have questioned me all my life,” she complained to the Los Angeles Times. “I have nothing to hide. I haven't done anything inappropriate.”

Evidently the House Ethics Committee and the Justice Department agree.

Representative Maxine Waters

FAMILY VALUABLES

Maxine Waters has a well-earned reputation as a dynamic liberal Democrat who champions the causes of the poor and downtrodden. The California congresswoman's generous spirit apparently also extends to her own family, because she's helped members use her political clout to book more than $1 million in business with companies, candidates, and organizations she has supported. As the Los Angeles Times first revealed last December in its series on Capitol Hill nepotism, Waters' husband and daughter have both capitalized on her influence. What looks like the sale of her endorsement to candidates eager to appear on her “slate mailer,” or sample ballot, has raked in money for her daughter's political consulting firm. What looks like the sale of access to lucrative government contracts for a bond firm has generated fees for her husband.

A Waters spokesman wouldn't answer requests for comment on those allegations. Waters also refused to reply to written questions from the Los Angeles Times, but told the paper: “They [her relatives] do their business and I do mine … . We are not bad people.” The financial deals involving her family don't seem to expressly violate any state laws or congressional ethics rules.

Yet there is something unseemly in the way the Waters family uses her political clout to advance its financial interests. At least that's the view of some Democratic political veterans who won't speak publicly about the powerful congresswoman. But the outspoken Sloan has publicly called for a House Ethics Committee investigation of Waters. “Maxine Waters is using her name and office to get lucrative contracts and money for her family,” says Sloan.

Daughter Karen's political-consulting business may best illustrate this savvy blending of political and financial interests. Karen Waters blandly assured the Los Angeles Times that “Maxine Waters is one of my clients,” and said she keeps their business dealings at arm's length. But as one Democratic consultant explains, “The unspoken commitment when Maxine gives you her endorsement is that you'll buy her slate. When we are talking about getting Maxine's endorsement, the joke is: ‘How much will that cost us?'”

The slate mailer is a California political artifact that the Waters family has successfully exploited. In the nation's largest state, where TV and newspaper ads are expensive, the mailers provide a vehicle for candidates to pool the cost of mass mailings -- for varying fees. Karen Waters' L.A. Vote mailer is considered one of the most influential because of the value of her mother's endorsement, especially in south Los Angeles. The mailer has brought in more than $1.7 million during the past eight years, according to the Los Angeles Times. Well-known politicians, such as former Governor Gray Davis, have paid tens of thousands of dollars to appear on L.A. Vote, while multimillionaire and political novice Al Checchi paid it $171,000 in his failed 1998 race for governor.

Some consultants, however, question the value of L.A. Vote and other mailer operations. “These things are largely a scam,” says one, “and the slate-mailer people generally ask for exorbitant amounts of cash.”

Naturally, Maxine Waters is far too astute to demand money directly from candidates seeking her support. She usually makes her endorsement decisions first, picking promising candidates for valid ideological and political reasons. Those decisions are followed by a second phase, with Karen Waters handling negotiations for the payment required to appear on the mailer. But when Karen needed to fill out her mother's slate with additional paying candidates, she put out feelers herself to potential mailer clients. “My mom wants to endorse your candidate, and we'd sure like to get him to be on her slate,” one adviser to a small-time candidate recalls Karen asking late in the campaign. “Then she asked for some ludicrous fee that we couldn't afford.” Ultimately, they negotiated the rate down to about $5,000.

Occasionally the congresswoman has set up a deal with not-so-subtle pressure. “I don't want to waste my endorsement on someone who can't win,” she reportedly has told consultants. “You need the best possible operation, the best possible events, and Karen can help you do that.” Another political professional remembers working on a zoning-referendum campaign for developers -- and being sized up financially by Waters and her daughter. The congresswoman bluntly asked how much money he was earning, leaving a clear implication: “She was there to do business for her daughter … and she wanted to get a clear idea of the money situation.” The campaign didn't end up paying, and the representative remained neutral.

Karen Waters likely wouldn't fare so well as a consultant if her mother weren't in Congress. She generally manages to publish an effective mailer that mimics almost exactly the look of official government election booklets, while featuring informal notes from the congresswoman. But there was also that unfortunate incident when she reportedly printed about 30,000 mailers in the 2000 election that accidentally featured Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore at the top of her mother's Democratic slate.

Recently, however, the money spigot for Karen Waters' firm has slowed because of new McCain-Feingold restrictions on fund raising by federal candidates. In last November's election, Waters' congressional campaign committee handled the slate-mailer operation under tighter fund-raising restrictions. Yet most candidates and initiative campaigns still paid more than $85,000 to get on it, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records. Senator Barbara Boxer's campaign was the most generous, paying $25,000 to the Waters committee. Forget about soft-money limits -- Waters won an advisory ruling last year from the FEC that deemed payments to her committee for the mailer as reimbursements for expenses, not donations. This year, L.A. Vote was back in the slate-mailer business, too, taking in money from some local nonfederal candidates endorsed by Maxine Waters.

Still other lucrative opportunities are available to the Waters family, thanks to the matriarch's connections. The Los Angeles Times reported that in the last three years, her husband, Sidney Williams, has earned nearly $500,000 by working as a part-time consultant to a bond underwriting firm -- and wooing some of the same officials his wife has endorsed. His biggest commission, totaling $84,000, came from helping the firm win a $424 million bond deal from State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who had paid $40,000 to appear on Maxine Waters' slate mailer.

Such ethical controversies haven't dimmed the high regard of her constituents, though. Some black political observers believe that resentment of Waters' paid endorsements stems from racial bias. And as one admiring consultant says of her political/money-making machine, “To the victor belongs the spoils.” He adds, “I wish I were her nephew.”

Art Levine is a Washington Monthly contributing editor who has also written for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, Slate, Salon, and other national publications.


Both Sides Someday

Representatives Ney, Barton, Weldon, and Waters may behave more outrageously than most of their Capitol Hill colleagues, but they are hardly alone in deserving critical scrutiny and possible punitive action. Other members have yet to achieve the same level of impropriety, but several have allegedly committed offenses sufficiently serious enough to warrant mention.

Certainly they deserve to be dealt with by a tough-minded, credible House Ethics Committee. If and when the committee decides to take meaningful action, ethics groups such as Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have pointed to several representatives as worthy of further investigation. Some were already facing preliminary inquiries by last year's ethics committee, while others were passed over but shouldn't have been. Here, then, are the runners-up:

  • Representative J.D. Hayworth doesn't let his image as a fun-loving blowhard get in the way of testing ethical constraints. In April, The Arizona Republic reported that his wife is the only employee of his t.e.a.m. pac, earning $107,000 since December 1999 -- or nearly half the money raised by Hayworth's leadership PAC. The congressman also failed to disclose, on five occasions, that he used skyboxes paid for by Jack Abramoff or Abramoff's tribal clients at fund-raising events that took place between 1999 and 2001, before, as The Arizona Republic noted, Abramoff became the central figure in a lobbying scandal. A Hayworth spokesman told the Prospect, “We've already given comment and worked with the FEC to rectify the oversight.”

  • Other representatives used the Abramoff skyboxes and didn't file reports -- such as John T. Doolittle, who was listed by Abramoff as having used them five times but claimed to have used them only once. No matter: Doolittle never reported any of those favors until he faced public scrutiny.

  • Cowboy Congressman Richard Pombo, the rancher who chairs the House Resources Committee, last year allegedly flouted House franking rules by sending out a brazenly pro–George W. Bush mailer to 175,000 snowmobile owners in the swing states of Wisconsin and Minnesota -- at taxpayers' expense. A Minnesota environmental group and Public Citizen filed complaints with the House Franking Commission, but the commission hasn't taken any action. In fact, under scandal-scarred House Administration Chairman Bob Ney, the commission hasn't even formed yet this year. “I'm beginning to feel that ethics are unimportant to this Republican Party,” says Sherry Enzler, a former coordinator for Minnesota's Environment 2004. Pombo wasn't available for comment.

  • Representative Rick Renzi unlawfully used hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own businesses to fund a large portion of his 2002 re-election campaign, according to the FEC. He also failed to report $39,000 in contributions and $101,000 in expenditures. Renzi claimed that they were permissible personal loans to his campaign that were properly reported.

  • Representative Jim McDermott has the distinction of being the target of perhaps the only formal complaint still pending from the years before the House Ethics Committee. The complaint, filed last year by Representative David Hobson, stems from a 1997 incident in which McDermott leaked to the press a taped cell-phone call that recorded House members discussing how then-Speaker Newt Gingrich should handle an ethics investigation. Representative John Boehner sued McDermott and won a $60,000 civil judgment against him last August, now being appealed by the Washington Democrat. Absurdly enough, DeLay claimed that House Democrats were blocking his rigged ethics committee from meeting earlier this year in order to protect … Jim McDermott.

  • Representative John Conyers and his aides allegedly conducted partisan political activities out of the congressman's Detroit office, an issue that the House Ethics Committee began exploring last year.

  • And let's not forget all the other members of Congress who accompanied DeLay on those overseas trips financed by foreign agents or lobbyists. For instance, the Korea–U.S. Exchange Council paid for at least six other members to travel to South Korea since 2001, according to the National Journal. Among them were Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ander Crenshaw, both Republicans from Florida. The same registered foreign agent enhanced its impact on Congress by hosting eight senior congressional staffers for a $57,000 retreat in August 2003 at West Virginia's luxurious Greenbrier resort.

    Says Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer, an authority on government ethics who has spent decades dogging congressional miscreants, “These ethics matters cannot be allowed to simply disappear.”

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