Sloan: Congressional Corruption a Bipartisan Affair

Posted November 7, 2012 at 1:50pm

In this hyperpartisan atmosphere, Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on little, except the need to crack down on corruption. 

According to a July 2012 USA Today/Gallup poll, Americans of all stripes rated reducing corruption in the federal government as the second-most-pressing issue for the next president to address, only behind job creation. 

It is heartening to see consensus on any issue looming large in the minds of the American electorate, but voters looking to the two parties for a solution to government corruption will unfortunately get the same tired answer: Blame the other guy.

Standing on the fault line of this divide, my group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, recognizes that it’s hard to stay spotless when the mud starts to fly. When CREW files a complaint or initiates an investigation, we know our target will question our credibility. But seeing those very same critics then hold CREW up as a beacon of truth when it suits their particular cause exposes the cynicism behind those claims.

Case in point: In July, CREW filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS for violating federal election law by failing to report spending for political ads it ran against three Senate candidates. At the time, Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio called the complaint “baseless” and stated that CREW “serves partisan causes under the dubious guise of charity.” 

With such a forceful refutation, one would think Crossroads GPS would be reluctant to champion any of CREW’s work, yet the group’s consistency in arguments is as questionable as its tax status with the IRS. 

Just weeks after Collegio’s put-down, Crossroads began flooding the airwaves with commercials telling Nevada voters their Democratic candidate for Senate, Rep. Shelley Berkley, is one of Washington’s most corrupt politicians. (Berkley lost the race to appointed Sen. Dean Heller.) The support for this charge? CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress report. Crossroads repeated the same tactic last month with ads against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), citing a statement I made regarding the Congressman’s conduct. 

While politicians and groups such as Crossroads GPS may change their tune whenever it benefits their shifting interests, CREW has worked for nearly a decade to ensure government officials — regardless of party affiliation — are held accountable and act with both honesty and integrity. 

Put more simply, at CREW we call it like we see it. An ethics violation is an ethics violation whether a politician is a Democrat or a Republican. CREW regularly holds Members on both sides of the aisle accountable for misconduct. We filed an FEC complaint against Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey for diverting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal use, including a family trip to Scotland. We also filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health against Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, who is also a doctor, for engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient while serving as her physician.

We asked for ethics investigations of California Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson for forcing staff to do campaign work and run her personal errands on official time and of California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa for releasing confidential information under court seal. We’ve been as critical of New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm as we have of New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks. Neither party is immune to ethical transgressions. 

At CREW, we believe ethical and accountable leadership trump partisan politics. It doesn’t matter whether you attempt to “drain the swamp” like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or maintain a “zero tolerance” policy for ethics abuses like Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). It’s time to stop treating Congressional corruption as a problem for the other team. It’s time for both parties to work together to ensure enforcement of ethics standards across the board.

Melanie Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.