Between Chris Lee’s Craigslist escapades and Anthony Weiner’s sexting, Congress has seen some high-profile ethical lapses this year.While Lee and Weiner’s transgressions cost them their seats, some of their colleagues have had better luck weathering scandals — including bribery scandals, tax fraud, letting an aide who once stabbed his girlfriend handle “women’s issues.”
Their offenses are detailed in the seventh annual list of the most corrupt members of Congress, released by the government watchdog Citizen’s For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
This year’s list features a number of repeat offenders, as well as some freshman legislators who’ve already gotten themselves into dicey legal problems.
All told, CREW identified 14 lawmakers who engaged in well-documented, egregious acts in the past year. Questionable behaviour from years past didn’t count — which accounts for Charlie Rangel’s conspicuous absence from the following list.
CREW's Charges: Alleged involvement in a money laundering scheme to funnel money to himself, his family, and his friends through a dog track and his mother's consulting firm. He also lied repeatedly on financial disclosure forms.
The story: Rivera is caught up in a huge scandal centered around Florida's push to approve slot machines, a scandal so big it has the FBI, IRS, state, and local authorities all looking into Rivera's dealings and finances. In short, Rivera worked on a pro-slots campaign for a dog track that paid more than $500,000 to a shady consulting firm founded by his mother. Rep. Rivera received $132,000 in loans from the firm while working on that campaign, though he did not disclose any income from the dog track, raising suspicions of tax fraud. Investigators are also probing unusual payments between Rivera's campaign and his mother's company.
On top of all that, Rivera repeatedly said in disclosure forms that his main source of income outside of his job as a state legislature came from USAID. Yet when a Florida newspaper asked USAID about the claim, the agency said Rivera had never worked for them.
CREW's Charges: Accepting improper loans; having ties to charities under federal investigation; and taking vacations paid for by a banker indicted in a Ponzi scheme.
The story: Meeks is under federal investigation into allegations that he used several non-profit groups for his own financial gain. One such group mysteriously misplaced money donated to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Meeks has also received several loans over the years that he failed to note on his financial disclosure forms until investigators started asking questions about his campaign finances. Meeks also bought a new home from a major campaign donor in 2007 at a rate well under market value.
To top it off, Meeks went on a number of Caribbean cruises paid for by a nonprofit group backed by banker and major Meeks donor R. Allen Stanford. In 2009, Stanford was indicted for running a Ponzi scheme.
CREW's Charges: Arranging meetings between Treasury officials and OneUnited Bank, a bank she had a big financial stake in. The House Ethics Committee is investigating the matter.
The story: Waters and her husband, Sidney Williams, separately owned hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock in OneUnited. Waters sold her shares in 2004, but her husband kept much of his when he sat on the bank's board form 2004 to 2008, leaving with a $350,000 stake in the company. When the economy tanked, Waters asked Treasury officials to stave off OneUnited's collapse, and arranged a series of meetings without disclosing her ties to the bank. OneUnited ultimately received $12 million in TARP funds, which it had failed to pay back as of Oct. 2010.
CREW's Charges: Assigning a staffer who'd once physically assaulted a girlfriend to oversee 'women's issues' for his campaign; using office funds to pay travel expenses related to that staffer's other legal issues.
The story: Vitter's legislative assistant, Brent Furer, racked up a string of arrests for cocaine possession, drunk driving, and reckless driving before joining Vitter's staff in 2005. Once on staff, Vitter's office paid for Furer to fly to Louisiana twice to resolve his legal issues.
That revelation didn't come out until Furor was arrested for assault in 2008. Furer allegedly got mad at his girlfriend when he saw numbers he didn't recognise in her phone, prevented her from leaving his apartment, stabbed her hand with a knife, and then asked her, 'Do you want to die?
CREW's Charges: Neglecting to pay child support; inaccurately reporting his assets and liabilities in filing statements; inaccurately reporting campaign loans.
The story: Walsh's ex-wife claims the congressman made only partial child support payments for several years, and that he made no payments at all for most of 2008 through 2010. She has filed suit against him, claiming he owes $117,437 in child support payments dating back to 2005.
During that time, Walsh managed to loan his campaign thousands of dollars, including nine loans totaling $35,500 during the 2010 election. Though Walsh's campaign committee reported those loans at 0.0%, the committee paid out almost $500 to Walsh after he won his election for what they said was interest.
CREW's Charges: Using his office to aid family members.
The story: Rahall's son already had a warrant out for his arrest for breaking and entering when he was picked up for drunken driving in 2003. While out on bail, he was arrested again, for drug possession and distribution charges. When his son came up for sentencing in 2005, Rahall personally wrote to the judge, on Congressional stationary, asking him to go easy. Rahall's son received only a four-year suspended sentence. The congressman has also been accused of using his office to benefit other family members, including his sister, lobbyist Tanya Rahall, who has credited Rahall for helping her career.
CREW's Charges: Filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms, and possibly accepting improper gifts or loans to aid his campaign.
The story: After Guinta's campaign committee received a series of huge loans, purportedly from the candidate himself, Guinta revealed that he had a second, previously undisclosed, bank account worth between $250,001 and $500,000. A subsequent investigation conducted by New Hampshire Public Radio determined that Guinta probably didn't have the means to accumulate such a large account on his own. The investigation suggested the money may have come from Guinta's parents, who sold a Jersey Shore home for $820,000 shortly before Guinta announced his candidacy.
CREW's Charges: Using his office to financially benefit his nephew's alternative energy company, which Bass had a big financial stake in.
The story: Before leaving Congress in 2007, Bass sponsored legislation that would provide clean-energy tax incentives to companies like his nephew's heating company, New England Wood Pellet, while also buying between $500,000 to $1 million worth of stock in the company. Bass joined NEWP's board two weeks after leaving office. He returned to Congress in 2010.
CREW's Charges: Using Congressional resources to aid her political campaigns.
The story: According to Richardson's aides, the congresswoman required Congressional staffers to volunteer on her 2010 reelection campaign, sometimes threatening termination if they did not comply. In one instance, Richardson's chief of staff wrote from her congressional email account that all staffers and interns had to attend a 'Democratic Idol' fundraising event. Richardson also allegedly used staffers to run her personal errands.
CREW's Charges: Pressuring partners and employees from his car dealership empire to donate to his campaign.
The story: In a sworn deposition to the FEC, a former business partner accused Buchanan of coercing him to donate thousands of dollars to Buchanan's 2010 campaign and pressuring other partners and employees to do the same. Several employees later came forward corroborating those allegations, saying he told them to use company funds to reimburse themselves, and offered the use of his Colorado vacation home as an incentive.
CREW's Charges: Lying about the source of a $250,000 campaign loan.
The story: Fincher reported that he had loaned $250,000 to his 2010 campaign. When investigators questioned where he'd gotten the money, given his modest finances, the chairman of Gates Banking and Trust Company admitted that his bank was the source of that loan. Fincher's father sat on the bank's board of directors.
CREW's Charges: Steering hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to campaign donors, former staffers, and a company where his son worked.
The story: Since 2000, Rep. Rogers has directed $236 million in the form of grants and earmarks to nonprofits he helped found, and secured $227 million in loans, grants and contracts to private companies he has ties to, or that have donated to his campaign. Some of those nonprofits have in turn placed millions of dollars in Citizens National Bank, a Kentucky-based bank Rogers partially owns.
CREW's Charges: Receiving free legal advice and failing to disclose it on campaign filing statements.
The story: During Schmidt's 2008 reelection campaign, her opponent accused her of taking 'blood money' from Turkish organisations in exchange for her opposition to a resolution calling the Turkish slaughter of Armenians at the end of World War I a genocide. Lawyers contracted by the Turkish Coalition of America filed a defamation suit on behalf of Schmidt and picked up the legal tab, which totaled nearly $500,000 between 2008 and 2010. Schmidt did not disclose any of them as gifts on her campaign finance statements.
CREW's Charges: Using FBI and Marine insignias on campaign materials without consent from either group; working as a company spokesman after winning his election.
The story: Grimm's campaign used FBI and Marine Corps insignias on fundraising materials, later apologizing when both groups raised objections. Then after winning his election, Grimm filmed a video endorsement for a private security firm, a possible conflict of interest. The Congressional ethics manual warns members not to become, 'too closely affiliated with any commercial entity.'
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