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1990: A Year of Crime and Punishment

It was a year of slaps on the wrist for protesters and Members of Congress.

[IMGCAP(1)]On Jan. 31, 1990, Elizabeth Mastropierro, 22, and Rachel Frankel, 30, threw two buckets of their own blood on the East Front columns and steps. The two women were members of the D.C. homeless rights organization Community for Creative Non-Violence. Their motivations were declared in a statement handed out by demonstrators that read: “Our blood stains the Nation’s Capitol today to make visible what our leaders refuse to acknowledge: the sacrifice of millions of our citizens — at the altar of misdirected priorities, selfishness, and compulsive greed. That is the State of our Union.”

Roll Call reported the women were “arrested and charged with ‘committing an act of physical violence upon US Capitol grounds’ and ‘injuring government property.’”

The duo originally were charged with a misdemeanor, but Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was not pleased with the minor charge and urged tougher action, in part because of the time and effort it took to clean up the granite steps and marble columns. In June the women pleaded guilty to a felony: depredation of government property.

In July, after a 22-month investigation, then-Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.) was denounced by the Senate for unethical conduct; short of expulsion, this charge is the harshest punishment a Member can receive, and it is essentially a type of censure.

The committee found that Durenberger “skirted limits on outside income by creating a ‘book promotion’ deal with Piranha Press; failed to report receipt of travel expenses in connection with Piranha Press appearances and trips to a Boston marriage counselor; improperly accepted Senate reimbursement for stays at a Minneapolis condominium he partly owned; improperly converted a campaign contribution for personal use; and accepted prohibited gifts of limousine service for personal use,” according to the pages of Roll Call.

Despite calls for his resignation in Minnesota, Durenberger remained in office until his term expired in January 1995.

Also in July, an 11-month ethics committee investigation of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) ended with a reprimand for “reflecting discredit upon the House.”

Frank was investigated for hiring a male prostitute, Stephen Gobie, as an aide; Gobie not only worked for Frank but also lived in the Member’s apartment. Frank said that he fired and kicked Gobie out of his residence upon learning he was running a prostitution service out of the Member’s apartment.

Roll Call reported on how the events unfolded, calling it “the most intense partisan drama the House has seen since the furor over former Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas).” Members passionately tried to sway the committee to expel or censure him, but the end vote was 408-18 in favor of reprimanding the openly gay Frank.

There were also calls for Frank to resign, but he did not, and he still holds office today.

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