MOST CORRUPT: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY CREW’s eighth report on congressional corruption names 20 members of Congress – 12 members who engaged

in serious misconduct and 8 members whose misdeeds earned them a dishonorable mention. Most members on CREW’s list violated the law and all flagrantly ignored the rules. For the majority, there have been few consequences. There was no shortage of candidates for CREW’s list this year, and 11 of the 20 members are joining it for the first time. In addition, one member, Rep. David Rivera (R-FL), has been under investigation by no fewer than six separate authorities – quite the rap sheet for a freshman. Others, including Reps. Michael Grimm (R-NY), Greg Meeks (D-NY), and Vern Buchanan (RFL), are also fending off inquiries on multiple fronts. Nine members violated campaign finance or personal financial disclosure rules. At least 14 members apparently are or have been under investigation either by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the House or Senate ethics committees, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), or law enforcement agencies. Members on the list have steered campaign donations and taxpayer money to themselves and their families, concealed the source of campaign funds, traded campaign contributions for official action, and abused their positions. The 2012 list arrives as Americans’ contempt for Congress appears to be reaching alltime highs. A July 2012 Gallup poll found reducing corruption in the federal government was the second-highest priority for the next president to address. 1 It followed only creating good jobs, and ranked higher than other significant concerns such as reducing the deficit and dealing with terrorism. 2 Meanwhile, the lack of ethics enforcement is fueling a loss of confidence as voters grow weary of seemingly endless scandals. By highlighting congressional misdeeds, CREW hopes to bring about change and help rebuild the public trust. Despite public concern, the Senate Ethics Committee has effectively sleepwalked through the past year. The Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section misspent its resources on a fruitless case against former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), ignoring more pressing targets. The FEC is hopelessly deadlocked, with half of the six-member commission openly refusing to enforce election law and five of the six commissioners serving despite expired terms. The OCE has continued to aggressively investigate possible wrongdoing by members of the House of Representatives, but it lacks enforcement power and the House Ethics Committee does little to follow up on its work. The committee is deeply backlogged, and its investigations of Most Corrupt standouts such as Reps. Meeks and Buchanan appear to be stuck in limbo with no clear timeline for resolution.

1 2

http://www.gallup.com/poll/156347/americans-next-president-prioritize-jobs-corruption.aspx. Id.

The House Ethics Committee did, finally, take action against Rep. Laura Richardson (DCA) in August for forcing her staff to volunteer on her campaign, misappropriating public resources, and, outrageously, attempting to obstruct the ethics investigation into her misdeeds. The House publicly reprimanded her and levied a $10,000 fine. Nevertheless, the rebuke came only after the committee’s plodding investigation dragged on for nearly two years, leaving no recourse for beleaguered members of her staff who came to the committee seeking protection. Rep. Richardson’s misconduct continued even after the committee notified her she was under investigation, demonstrating how little she felt she had to fear from it. The investigative subcommittee assigned to Rep. Richardson’s case tacitly acknowledged a failure to act in her case would shred what little remained of the committee’s battered credibility, writing: If the Committee fails to exact a steep price for such conduct, the message is one of a set of rules with a toothless enforcement mechanism . . . The integrity of any regulatory system, but particularly ones like the House that rely on peers to discipline peers, cannot abide evasive and obstructive conduct by targets of investigation . . . Investigative bodies must exact pressure on individuals like Representative Richardson who fail to act with complete candor towards them. 3 The committee was stirred to action in her case but has otherwise sunk into an inexplicable torpor. It has bungled its most high-profile current case, that of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), so badly it was forced to appoint an outside counsel to both investigate itself and review the evidence against Rep. Waters, a process still underway. Because of the chaos, CREW decided against including Rep. Waters on its list this year. Even when the ethics committees agree action is needed, a series of loopholes allow lawmakers to escape consequences. Earlier this year, the OCE dropped an investigation into Rep. Grimm, apparently because his alleged fundraising violations took place before he was sworn in, depriving the office of jurisdiction. Similarly, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) evaded an investigation into his solicitation of prostitutes in 2007 because he was a member of the House at the time of misconduct but joined the Senate before it was revealed, creating a lack of jurisdiction. The House Ethics Committee, meanwhile, has empaneled an investigative subcommittee to look into whether Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) used her position to support her husband’s financial and personal interests, but if her Senate bid this year is successful, that inquiry would fall victim to the same problem. If Rep. Berkley loses, she’ll leave Congress – and the committee’s jurisdiction – entirely. The House Ethics Committee also ordered one of last year’s Most Corrupt members, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH), to repay more than half a million dollars in legal fees she improperly accepted. Rep. Schmidt started a legal defense fund, but she lost her primary in March. Once she leaves office, the committee has no mechanism in place to force her to comply with its repayment order. Congress must close these loopholes. These problems are not new, but they are urgent. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has unleashed an unprecedented flood of money into politics, providing new
3

House Committee on Ethics, 112th Congress, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Laura Richardson, Appendix A, Report of the Investigative Subcommittee in the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Laura Richardson, August 1, 2012, pp. 59-60.

opportunities for corruption, and the investigative bodies responsible for making sure government acts in the best interests of the public must do a better job. The president needs to nominate new commissioners to the FEC and make sure they’re willing to enforce the law. Further, the House should retain the OCE and Congress must reform its ethics process, rendering it more transparent and accountable to the people. Until then, CREW will continue to hold members of Congress accountable – and call for change.