By: Gary J Verdes
“We the People” are disgusted with our government. We ranked fixing “corruption in Washington” number 2 on Gallup’s poll of top presidential priorities in 2012. Yet Washington doesn’t seem to care. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney even mentioned “corruption” as an issue that their administration would address. And it will take a lot more work by us to get them to pay attention.
We need a federal government that will place the interests of the public before petty disagreements and personal agendas. We must hold our elected officials accountable for the deteriorating state of our country.
Here are just a few members of Congress that we have elected and continue to re-elect to run our Government.
Rep. David Rivera from Florida’s 25th district, personal finances were already a legal black hole before he conspired to break campaign finance laws to prop up a candidate running in the Democratic primary for his House seat. Still under investigation by the FBI and IRS for failing to report income from a consulting firm connected to his family and misusing campaign funds, and subject of a separate FBI investigation for illegally providing support to one of his Democratic opponents.
Rep. Hal Rogers Sixteen-term member of Congress representing Kentucky’s fifth district. Adding to the long list of earmarks he’s steered to well-connected campaign contributors, and has shown yet again that he’s earned the title “Prince of Pork.” Earmarked millions of dollars’ worth of government contracts for a company whose owners and lobbyists have donated tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign and leadership PAC.
Rep. Laura Richardson Three-term member of Congress representing California’s 37th district. The House Ethics Committee finally took action against her — after letting her corruption fester for years. Reprimanded by the House of Representatives in 2012 for forcing official staff to work on her reelection campaign and attempting to cover up her misdeeds during a House Ethics Committee investigation.
Rep. Ron Paul Twelve-term member of Congress representing Texas’ 14th district. He illegally pocketed thousands of taxpayer dollars by double-billing his travel expenses to the House and either his campaign or one of several libertarian nonprofits. Over the course of a decade, the Texas Republican routinely billed his member’s representational allowance for travel receipts while receiving reimbursements in identical amounts from either his campaign or one of a handful of libertarian nonprofits, including one where the mother-in-law of one of his daughters was treasurer. After an audit, one group found that Rep. Paul owed a $20,000 refund for double-billed expenses.
Rep. Gregory Meeks Eight-term member of Congress representing New York’s sixth congressional district. After another year, multiple ongoing investigations’ behind-the-scenes dealings and crooked campaign donors remain frustratingly opaque. Under investigation by federal law enforcement and the House Ethics Committee for failing to report a loan for three years, and for ties to questionable nonprofit groups.
Rep. Howard McKeon Ten-term member of Congress representing California’s 25th district and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Received a sweetheart mortgage deal through the Countrywide VIP program, and then improperly used his official staff to try to contain the political fallout for his wife’s campaign.
Sen. Mark Kirk First-term senator representing Illinois. Over the course of his career in the House and Senate, he promoted legislation benefiting clients of his girlfriend, Washington, D.C. public relations professional Dodie McCracken. In three instances, the Illinois Republican sponsored bills that would allow non-profits represented by Ms. McCracken’s firm to issue commemorative coins. Two of the bills became law, yielding more than $2 million for each of Ms. McCracken’s clients. Passed laws affording financial benefits to his girlfriend’s clients, and paid both his girlfriend and ex-wife using campaign funds.
Rep. Darrell Issa Six-term member of Congress representing California’s 49th district and Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Illegally published information from a sealed wiretap application in the Congressional Record In the course of his partisan witch hunt to hold the Attorney General in contempt, he knowingly broke disclosure laws. During floor debate over a motion to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over the Fast and Furious operation, the California Republican inserted information from a sealed wiretap application into the Congressional Record without a judge’s permission violates federal law. Rep. Issa knew that he could shield himself from prosecution by including the information in the Congressional Record, which would be protected under the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.
Rep. Michael Grimm First-term member of Congress from New York’s 13th district. Under investigation by FBI and possibly the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Federal Election Commission for running an illegal fundraising ring during his 2010 campaign. Federal investigators are probing whether a crooked fundraiser helped raise illegal funds in 2010 in exchange for the candidate’s promise to help obtain a green card. The New York Republican enlisted a well-connected Israeli citizen, Ofer Biton, during his 2010 campaign. Mr. Biton allegedly helped candidate Grimm solicit large sums from donors, including several pornography distributors, frequently breaking campaign contribution limits in the process, all in the hope that, once in office, Rep. Grimm would help him procure a green card.
Rep. Norm Dicks Eighteen-term member of Congress representing Washington’s sixth district and Ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee didn’t hesitate to use his powerful committee assignment as a source of big gifts for his son. Rep. Norm Dicks increased federal funding to the Puget Sound Partnership, a nonprofit group where his son, David Dicks, was executive director, from $20 million to $50 million. The Environmental Protection Agency later investigated questionable spending by the Partnership and forced it to return more than $120,000. Used his position as an Appropriations Committee subcommittee chairman to steer funds to a nonprofit group run by his son.
Rep. Vern Buchanan Three-term member of Congress from Florida’s 13th district, is still the chief fundraiser for House Republicans — even though his own campaign’s fundraising broke just about every law on the books. The Florida Republican’s former business partner and several former employees of his car dealerships have testified that the congressman forced employees to contribute to his campaigns, and used corporate funds to reimburse them. To cover up his scheme, Rep. Buchanan allegedly tried to make his business partner sign a false affidavit in exchange for $2.9 million. Rep. Buchanan is also accused of misusing his corporate resources to benefit his campaigns, tax evasion, and lying on his personal financial disclosure forms.
Rep. Paul Broun Three-term member of Congress representing Georgia’s 10th district can’t keep his story straight about loans to his campaign. Between 2007 and 2010, the Georgia Republican illegally concealed information about the true source of thousands of dollars’ worth of loans to his campaign. He then repeatedly made conflicting statements about the source of the loans before amending his Federal Election Commission reports — which still left many questions unresolved.
Rep. Tim Bishop Five-term member of Congress representing New York’s first district, helped a wealthy constituent obtain permits to hold a fireworks show at the same time that his campaign solicited the constituent for a donation. In 2012, the New York Democrat intervened to help a constituent, Eric Semler, obtain environmental permits to hold a fireworks display at his Southampton, N.Y. home during his son’s bar mitzvah. While the permits were pending, Rep. Bishop’s campaign requested a donation of up to $10,000 from Mr. Semler. The following month, Mr. Semler and his wife made a combined donation of $5,000 to Rep. Bishop’s campaign.
Rep. Shelley Berkley Seven-term member of Congress representing Nevada’s first district, has spent a career advocating for renal care physicians, in spite of an obvious conflict of interest created by her husband’s medical practice. In 2008, the Nevada Democrat intervened to save a kidney transplant program at a university hospital that had been targeted for closure. Rep. Berkley’s husband is a nephrologist and president of a large medical practice with a direct financial stake in keeping the transplant program in operation. Under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for using her position to stop the closure of a kidney transplant facility in which her husband holds a large financial stake.
Rep. Rob Andrews Twelve-term member of Congress representing New Jersey’s first district, donors to his campaigns likely have no idea that the congressman is treating his campaign account like a personal piggybank. The Garden State Democrat got caught spending campaign funds on perks like a family trip to Scotland, travel to Tinseltown with his daughter, and even a high school graduation party. He has also earmarked more than $1.5 million for Rutgers University Law School, his wife’s employer. Under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for using campaign funds on personal perks and privileges for his family, and earmarked more than $1.5 million for his wife’s employer.
Rep. Cliff Stearns Twelve-term member of Congress from Florida’s sixth district and his wife make a great team, when it comes to earmarking millions of taxpayer dollars for an institution that contributes to their family income. The Florida Republican earmarked millions of dollars for the College of Central Florida, where his wife, Joan Stearns, works and has received numerous promotions. He secured several of these earmarks after a House rule change required members to affirm that they had no financial interest in requested earmarks. He also improperly used official resources during his unsuccessful campaign for reelection this year. The campaign broke house rules by allowing Rep. Stearns’ official press secretary to act as campaign spokesman, and using footage of House proceedings in campaign advertisements.
Sen. David Vitter Two-term senator representing Louisiana, every year, seems to find new ways to outdo his previous deplorable conduct. The Louisiana Republican threatened to block a pay raise for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unless the secretary agreed to issue more deepwater drilling permits. Although the Senate Ethics Committee rebuked Sen. Vitter and warned him not to engage in similar conduct in the future, Sen. Vitter boasted that he would continue to block pending pay increases for Secretary Salazar.
Rep. Don Young Twenty-term member of Congress representing Alaska’s at-large district. A long-running FBI investigation produced clear evidence that earmarked millions to a campaign contributor and used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses for himself and his wife. In 2005, the Alaska Republican inserted a $10 million earmark into a transportation bill — after it had passed Congress — to study a highway interchange that would benefit one of Rep. Young’s campaign contributors. Obtained documents about the FBI’s investigation into the earmark revealing that the bureau also investigated Rep. Young and his late wife, Lu Young, for using campaign contributions to pay personal expenses like meals, travel, and dry cleaning, he is now subject to a lengthy FBI investigation, which may or may not be ongoing, for earmarking millions of dollars to a campaign contributor, using campaign funds to pay personal expenses, and failing to disclose lavish gifts.
Rep. Edolphus Towns Fifteen-term member of Congress representing New York’s 10th district, ends his congressional joyride this year after treating his wife to a car leased with campaign funds, and using his position to acquire two sweetheart mortgage deals. A House report issued earlier this year found that Rep. Towns received favorable terms on two home loans as part of Countrywide’s VIP program. While he was chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Rep. Towns initially refused to subpoena information on the recipients of loans under the VIP program.
Rep. Aaron Schock Two-term member of Congress representing Illinois’ 18th congressional district needs a crash course in campaign finance laws. The Illinois Republican asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to donate $25,000 to a super PAC supporting an Illinois colleague. Federal law bars members of Congress from soliciting individual donations to super PACs larger than $5,000. Rep. Schock’s campaign committee reimbursed him for personal expenses, including a set of P90X workout DVDs and a stay at a five-star luxury hotel in Athens.
Rep. DesJarlais Republican from Tennessee a doctor is under Investigation by The Tennessee Department of Health for having inappropriate sexual relationships with his patients. Before he was elected to congress in 2010, Rep. DesJarlais practiced medicine in Tennessee. On October 10, 2012, the Huffington Post reported that in 2001, Rep. DesJarlais engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his patients and pressured her to have an abortion. On November 15, 2012, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Rep. DesJarlais had sexual relationships with at least two patients. The Tennessee State Board of Medical Examiners’ Sexual Misconduct Statement and Policy prohibits Tennessee physicians from having sexual relationships with their patients.
Rep. Owens Democrat from New York is under scrutiny for traveling to Taiwan on a privately financed trip arranged by lobbyists. In December 2011, Rep. Owens traveled to Taiwan at the invitation of the Chinese Culture University. Rep. Owens and his wife flew in first class and stayed at hotels costing on average $520 per night. The entire four-day trip cost $22,132. Though the trip was paid for by the university, the trip was arranged by lobbyists employed by Park Strategies, a New York lobbying firm run by former Sen. Al D’Amato. House rules explicitly prohibit members from accepting trips organized or arranged by lobbyists. On May 11, 2012, the day after ProPublica first reported the trip, Rep. Owens said he would reimburse the University for the Cost of the trip. On August 30, 2012, the OCE referred its investigation of Rep. Owens to the House Ethics Committee. On December 14, 2012, the chairman and ranking member decided to extend the inquiry.
Rep. Hastings Democrat from Florida is being investigating by The House Ethics Committee for allegations that sexually harassed a former staffer. Winsome Packer worked on the staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe from January 2008 to February 2010, while Rep. Hastings was co-chairman of the commission. In March 2011, Ms. Packer filed a civil suit in federal court alleging sexual harassment. In her lawsuit, Ms. Packer alleged that she was “forced to endure unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching by Mr. Hastings,” and that Rep. Hastings and his staff threatened to fire her when she refused his advances. On October 13, 2011, the OCE referred its investigation of Rep. Hastings to the House Ethics Committee. On November 28, 2011, the chairman and ranking member decided to extend the committee’s inquiry into Rep. Hastings’ conduct. On January 11, 2012, the House Ethics Committee voted against conducting a full-scale investigation, but decided to continue its preliminary review of the allegations.
Rep. Renacci Republican from Ohio is being investigated by the FBI for large campaign contributions made by employees of an Ohio-based direct marketing corporation, Suarez Corporation Industries, to Rep. Renacci. On May 18, 2012, the New Republic reported that the FBI had questioned employees of Suarez Corporation Industries about their donations. On May 21, 2012, Rep. Renacci’s campaign confirmed the FBI is investigating the contributions.
Rep. Young Republican from Arkansas is under investigation for allegedly accepting gifts that he failed to report on his annual financial disclosure statements, using campaign funds for personal purposes and making false statements to federal officials. In a statement, the House Ethics Committee confirmed it had begun gathering evidence in the Young investigation during the 111th and 112th Congresses. On February 26, 2013, the House Committee on Ethics voted to establish an Investigative Subcommittee to look into the allegations against Rep. Young.
As James Garfield, our 20th President, once said, “[T]he people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature…”