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THE NATION

Group Lists 13 'Most Corrupt' in Congress

Three California lawmakers are named by the ethics watchdog. A spokesman for one senator says the report is 'pure politics.'

September 25, 2005|Chuck Neubauer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A watchdog group, naming what it calls "the 13 most corrupt members of Congress," is calling for ethics investigations of some of the most prominent leaders on Capitol Hill in a report to be released Monday.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says in its report that the 13 members, among them Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), might have violated a variety of congressional ethics rules.

The bipartisan list includes three Californians: Reps. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe).

Cunningham is one of two House members whose residences have been searched as part of separate federal criminal investigations. The other, Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), also is named on the watchdog group's list.

Three of those named on the list -- Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) -- were cited for their dealings with onetime super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is the subject of congressional and federal grand jury investigations. Abramoff was indicted last month on fraud charges relating to a Florida business deal. He has pleaded not guilty.

"They all violated ethics rules," Melanie Sloan, the watchdog group's executive director, said of the 13 members of Congress on its list. She criticized both political parties for what she said was a failure to police ethics.

James Pendleton, a spokesman for Burns, dismissed the group's report as "pure politics." Ney's press secretary, Brian Walsh, said: "We don't give Melanie Sloan and her liberal organization an ounce of credibility."

Its report, titled "Beyond DeLay: The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress," is based on news articles and other documents, the watchdog group said. It made the report available to the Los Angeles Times.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington "was compelled to research and release a report on these corrupt members because the ethics committees in both the House and Senate are completely inert," Sloan said. "The report calls for the House and Senate to act to investigate and take appropriate action against them for these violations of the rules."

The watchdog group has been outspoken in criticizing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for what Sloan calls his ethical lapses.

"Nonetheless, we recognize that Rep. DeLay is not the only member of Congress whose behavior merits scrutiny," the report says. "There are a significant number of other members who have engaged in similarly egregious conduct, thus the name of the report: 'Beyond DeLay.' "

It says the group's goal is "to galvanize both the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics into action. The ethics committees have lain largely dormant over the past years despite the often appalling conduct of their members."

Sloan expressed impatience with both parties. "Democrats are just as much to blame as Republicans for the current ethics deadlock. The Democrats won't file ethics complaints against even the most egregious violators like DeLay and Ney.... The Democrats are spineless," she said.

Sloan said she had been unable to persuade any member of the House to file ethics complaints that the watchdog group has drawn up against Ney and Cunningham. House rules do not permit outside groups to file complaints.

"It is outrageous that outsiders can't file complaints, since Congress has demonstrated its unwillingness to police its own conduct," Sloan said.

In 2004, Sloan helped then-Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), a lame duck, file a complaint against fellow-Texan DeLay. The House ethics committee admonished DeLay, but also said Bell had violated a House rule by filing a complaint containing "innuendo, speculative assertions or conclusory statements."

The Senate does permit outside complaints, but Sloan said they were routinely dismissed as "speculative."

Both ethics committees can initiate investigations on their own without a complaint. Such investigations tend to be confidential in the early stages.

A spokesman for the House ethics committee said he could not speak on any matter that may be pending before the committee. Rob Walker, chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, declined to comment.

The 13 members of Congress recommended for investigation by the watchdog group are:

* Sen. Bill Frist: The report accuses him of violating federal campaign finance laws in how he disclosed a campaign loan. It also calls for an inquiry over his recent sale of stock in HCA Inc., his family's hospital corporation. The sale has raised questions about possible insider dealing. Frist aides confirmed Friday that the SEC was investigating. They have denied claims of campaign finance violations.

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