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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Crooked at core ─ why clean sweep of Washington officeholders imperative


United States House and Senate’s Corrupt (CREW’s “Violators” and “Dishonorable Mentions”)
Excerpts, edit by Carolyn Bennett

C
REW’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.


Violators: Members of U.S. House of Representatives

Rob Andrews (D-NJ)
Tim Bishop (D-NY)
Paul Broun (R-GA)
Vern Buchanan (R-FL)
Michael Grimm (R-NY)
Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
Laura Richardson (D-CA)
David Rivera (R-FL)
Harold Rogers (R-KY)
Cliff Stearns (R-FL)
Don Young (R-AK)

Violators: Members of U.S. Senate
David Vitter (R-LA)


Dishonorable Mentions: U.S. House of Representatives

Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
Norm Dicks (D-WA)
Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA)
Ron Paul (R-TX)
Aaron Schock (R-IL)
Edolphus Towns (D-NY)

CREW’s “Most Corrupt Members of Congress 2012 Report”


M
any Americans have given up on our political system and have written off our elected leaders as crooks, says CREW; but this organization maintains that politicians must be held accountable for their actions.  


Day in and day out, we work to ensure government officials ─ regardless of party affiliation ─ act with honesty and integrity and merit the public trust, says CREW's website.


We advance our mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach. CREW employs the law as a tool to force officials to act ethically and lawfully and to bring unethical conduct to the public’s attention through:
 Litigation
Freedom of Information Act Requests
Ethics Complaints

Internal Revenue Service Complaints
Federal Election Commission 
Complaints

Requests for Investigations

“… We firmly believe… that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; it is the only thing that ever has.” ─ Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

CREW REPORT
2012
CREW’s “Most Corrupt Members of Congress 2012 Report”
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY excerpt

“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.

CREW REPORT
2011
“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 all-time highs. A July 2012 Gallup poll found reducing corruption in the federal government was the second-highest priority for the next president to address.

It followed only creating good jobs, and ranked higher than other significant concerns such as reducing the deficit and dealing with terrorism.

CREW REPORT
2010

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.

Senate Ethics Committee (inept)

“D
espite 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 (Federal Election Commission) 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 Office of Congressional Ethics 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.”

House Ethics Committee (inept)

CREW REPORT
2009
“The House Ethics Committee did, finally, take action against Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) 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:

CREW REPORT
2008
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.


“T
he 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 [2012] list.

Even when the ethics committees agree action is needed, a series of loopholes allow lawmakers to escape consequences.



Sources and notes

Most Corrupt Members of Congress 2012 Report (PDF)

http://www.crewsmostcorrupt.org/page/-/PDFs/Reports/Most%20Corrupt%20Reports/CREW-Most-Corrupt-Members-of-Congress-Report-2012.pdf?nocdn=1

Most Corrupt Members of Congress 2012 Report
http://www.crewsmostcorrupt.org/mostcorrupt/entry/most-corrupt-members-of-congress-report-2012

To create this report, CREW reviewed media articles, Federal Election Commission reports, court documents, and members’ personal financial and travel disclosure forms. We then analyzed that information in light of federal laws and regulations as well as congressional ethics rules.
http://www.crewsmostcorrupt.org/mostcorrupt/entry/about-the-report

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

“We advance our mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach. CREW employs the law as a tool to force officials to act ethically and lawfully and to bring unethical conduct to the public’s attention through:

Litigation
Freedom of Information Act Requests
Ethics Complaints
Internal Revenue Service Complaints
Federal Election Commission Complaints
Requests for Investigations

“By marrying in-depth research and investigation with hard-charging legal action and an aggressive communications strategy, we accomplish our goals. Our efforts are augmented by building coalitions to push for policies favoring transparency and accountability. To garner support for our efforts, we use all avenues/instruments of the modern media — television, radio, print, and social networking —to maximize coverage of our work.

“… We firmly believe… that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; it is the only thing that ever has.

“Many Americans have given up on our political system, writing off our elected leaders as crooks. At CREW, we believe politicians must be held accountable for their actions. Day in and day out, we work to ensure government officials -regardless of party affiliation- act with honesty and integrity and merit the public trust.

“Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests.” http://www.citizensforethics.org/pages/about

CREW’s work re: corrupt U.S. campaign finance system and the president’s failure to act

The absence of your leadership on campaign finance issues has been very damaging to the interests the American people have in honest elections and a government free from corruption.

…We recognize that the critical test for an officeholder is not how an official functions within the boundaries of the flawed campaign finance system that exists, but what the officeholder is prepared to do to fix the system. You have not met this critical test.

… Given the absence of leadership and action on your part, we can only conclude that in your view the scandalous campaign finance system facing the country is not important enough for you to spend political capital on, or take meaningful steps to repair. In taking this approach, thus far, you have failed the citizens of this country on an issue of paramount importance – preventing the corruption of our democracy.

We strongly urge you to act now and during the remainder of your second term to provide leadership and a public voice in the pivotal battle to reform the campaign finance laws and protect the American people against the corruption of our democracy. We also strongly urge you to exercise your executive authority to nominate to the FEC and other agencies that deal with campaign activities, individuals who are committed to properly enforcing the laws.

A
pril 30, 2013, “CREW and Others Urge President Obama to Pursue Campaign Finance Reform Categories:  Washington, D.C. — [Monday April 29, 2013], Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington joined a coalition of reform groups to send a letter to President Barack Obama calling on him to take meaningful action to repair America’s broken campaign finance system.”

CREW letter to the U.S. PRESIDENT Full text reprint

April 29, 2013

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We are writing to express our deep concern about the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system and about your failure, to date, as President to provide meaningful leadership or take effective action to solve this fundamental problem facing our democracy.

Our organizations include Americans for Campaign Reform, the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters and Public Citizen.

We recognize that as President you face many important policy issues and that you need to set priorities for your efforts.

This, however, does not justify the fact that for more than four years you have not provided meaningful leadership, or made use of your bully pulpit, to advance the reforms that are essential to repairing the nation’s campaign finance laws. Nor does your need to deal with other policy issues justify your lack of action to address the failure to enforce the campaign finance laws.

The absence of your leadership on campaign finance issues has been very damaging to the interests the American people have in honest elections and a government free from corruption. It is inexplicable to us that you have been unwilling to actively work for solutions to political money problems that are attacking the integrity of our democracy and political system.

When you first campaigned for President, you had no problems addressing the reforms necessary to repair the campaign finance system.

For example, in October 2007 in response to a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire, you supported public financing for congressional races, stating, “I believe it is imperative that we get big money out of the political process.”

In June 2008, in an op-ed article you published in USA TODAY, you made a public commitment to repair the presidential public financing system. You said at the time that you were “firmly committed to reforming the system as president so that it’s viable in today’s campaign climate.”
During the 2008 presidential campaign, you also recognized the serious problems with the agency responsible for enforcing the nation’s campaign finance laws, stating in response to the questionnaire referred to above, “What the FEC needs most is strong, impartial leadership that will promote integrity in our election system.” You made a public commitment to “appoint nominees to the Commission who are committed to enforcing our nation’s election laws.”

As President, however, you have provided no leadership and have taken no meaningful actions to accomplish these goals.

Moreover, actions you have taken have served to undermine the protections in place to guard against the corrupting influence of political money.

After initially indicating you would use the public financing system for your 2008 presidential campaign, you walked away from the system and became the first party nominee since President Nixon in 1972 to run a primary and general election presidential campaign solely with private contributions. This action helped cause the demise of the presidential public financing system that had served the nation well for most of its existence.

In the 2012 presidential race, while raising unprecedented amounts of small contributions on the Internet, you also raised unprecedented amounts of large contributions and bundled contributions, providing a stark reminder of the importance of restoring the presidential public financing system.

We recognize that the critical test for an officeholder is not how an official functions within the boundaries of the flawed campaign finance system that exists, but what the officeholder is prepared to do to fix the system. You have not met this critical test.

In addition to walking away from your commitment to repair the presidential public financing system, you have not submitted any nominees for the FEC to the Senate for more than three years. This has occurred despite the fact that four of the Commissioners currently serving on the six-member FEC are lame-duck Commissioners, whose terms have expired and who are ineligible to be reappointed, but who can continue to serve until they are replaced. A fifth lame-duck Commissioner recently resigned and at the end of April the sixth Commissioner will become a lame-duck. This means that as of April 30, there will be five lame-duck Commissioners and one-open seat at the FEC.

Meanwhile, it is widely recognized that the FEC is a dysfunctional agency that in recent years has repeatedly refused to properly enforce or interpret the campaign finance laws. As a result, while we have campaign finance laws on the books, the impact of these anti-corruption laws is minimized by the absence of meaningful enforcement. This failure to enforce the laws is its own campaign finance scandal and you have been unwilling to do anything about it.

The Internal Revenue Service also has failed to enforce the tax laws against groups that have improperly claimed tax-exempt status as Section 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations in order to hide the donors funding their campaign-related activities. We are aware of no steps that your Administration has taken to address these abuses of the tax laws.

We recognize that your Administration provided some support for the DISCLOSE Act efforts in Congress, some support for curbs on lobbyists and issued statements opposing Republican efforts to repeal the presidential public financing system. We also recognize that you have challenged the Citizens United decision, stating in your 2010 State of the Union address, “I don’t think the American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.”

Nevertheless, these limited efforts do not translate into providing the presidential leadership and public advocacy necessary to reform a corrupt campaign finance system that distorts all aspects of public policy.

Furthermore, you have failed to pursue campaign finance efforts that are within your complete control as President. For example, it is within your executive authority to submit FEC nominees to the Senate to fill the existing vacancies; to issue the Executive Order you initiated, but then dropped that would have required government contractors to disclose their contributions to groups engaged in electioneering activities; and to use the bully pulpit to speak out and educate the public on repairing the campaign finance laws, as you have on a number of other issues.
It is also within your control to publicly support the effort to have the Securities and Exchange Commission require public corporations to disclose their campaign activities to their shareholders and the public, and to obtain better disclosure at the Federal Communications Commission regarding campaign ads being run by broadcasters.

You have been unwilling to undertake any of these efforts despite your ability to do so under your own authority.

Despite the enormous damage done by the Supreme Court decision in the Citizen United case, it is important to recognize there are effective and valuable reforms that can be made to repair the nation’s campaign finance laws. These reforms need your active leadership and your public voice. They include:

Empowering citizens to counter big money in American politics by matching their small donations with multiple, public matching funds and thereby making their contributions far more important and valuable to candidates and central to financing federal elections;

Curbing Super PACs and establishing tough rules to prevent coordination between outside spenders and candidates;

Closing the gaping loopholes in the disclosure laws;

Creating a real campaign finance enforcement system; and

Taking steps to directly challenge the Citizens United decision.

Instead of providing leadership and a public voice on these reform battles, however, you have worked this year in the opposite direction.

After prohibiting corporate contributions from being used to fund your inauguration in 2009, and after publicly recognizing the dangers posed by corporate money in American politics, you reversed your 2009 policy following re-election to your second and last term as President. According to FEC reports, the corporate funds raised by your Inauguration Committee to pay for your second inauguration included $4.6 million from AT&T, $2.1 million from Microsoft, $1 million from Boeing and $1 million from Chevron.

You also played a leading role this year in creating Organizing for Action, an unprecedented, privately-funded group that functions as an arm of your presidency. OFA provides wealthy donors and bundlers with the opportunity to provide very large amounts of money to an organization operating on your behalf and in your name, and thereby the opportunity to obtain undue influence over government decisions. OFA is a big mistake and a dangerous precedent that other federal officeholders are now likely to follow.

The Citizens United decision in 2010 made a broken campaign finance system far worse, opening the door for unlimited expenditures of unlimited contributions to exercise undue influence over our elections and exert corrupting influence on government decisions and federal officeholders. It is a national imperative that we repair the nation’s campaign finance laws.
We know that campaign finance reform fights are always tough battles. And we know it is difficult to pass legislation in this divided Congress. But we also know, and history shows, that campaign finance reform battles can be won over time if they have strong national leadership that recognizes the enormous stakes involved for the nation. We also know the difficulties of passing legislation have not prevented you from pursuing other difficult battles you consider important.

Given the absence of leadership and action on your part, we can only conclude that in your view the scandalous campaign finance system facing the country is not important enough for you to spend political capital on, or take meaningful steps to repair. In taking this approach, thus far, you have failed the citizens of this country on an issue of paramount importance – preventing the corruption of our democracy.

We strongly urge you to act now and during the remainder of your second term to provide leadership and a public voice in the pivotal battle to reform the campaign finance laws and protect the American people against the corruption of our democracy. We also strongly urge you to exercise your executive authority to nominate to the FEC and other agencies that deal with campaign activities, individuals who are committed to properly enforcing the laws.

Respectfully,

Americans for Campaign Reform
Campaign Legal Center
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Common Cause
Democracy 21
League of Women Voters
Public Citizen
http://www.citizensforethics.org/page/-/PDFs/Legal/Letters/Other/4-29-13_Letter_from_Reform_Groups_to_President_Obama.pdf?nocdn=1


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