Reform-Minded Ex-Rep. Charles Bennett Dies at 92

Posted September 8, 2003 at 3:49pm

Former Florida Rep. Charles Bennett, a Democrat known for his relentless advocacy on behalf of ethical reforms, died Sept. 6 of natural causes. The 92-year-old ex-Member last year had suffered a stroke and heart attack.

The Sunshine State’s longest-serving Representative, Bennett first arrived on Capitol Hill in 1949, winning his Jacksonville-based seat on a platform that included opposition to President Harry Truman’s civil rights program.

During his 44 years in Congress, Bennett, who retired in 1992, sponsored legislation that created the House ethics committee, and later served as its chairman. The disabled World War II veteran, who contracted polio as a guerrilla fighter in the Philippines, also co-sponsored the Americans With Disabilities Act.

His dogged efforts to institute reforms — as early as the 1950s Bennett was practicing financial disclosure — earned him the moniker “Mr. Clean.”

In 1965, Bennett backed the Voting Rights Act, explaining his support for the measure on the basis that unlike previous civil rights legislation, the voting rights bill constituted a “constitutional obligation.”

As a member of the Armed Services Committee in the 1980s, Bennett — who fought to limit funding for then-President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative program — was twice passed over for the chairmanship by Members with less seniority.

Earlier in his career, Bennett also co-sponsored the legislation that made “In God We Trust,” the national motto.

Born in Canton, N.Y., Bennett earned a bachelor’s and a law degree from the University of Florida. He received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service in WWII.

Bennett is survived by his wife, Dorothy, three children and three grandchildren. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

— Bree Hocking