Too many members of Congress treat their position as lawmakers as a license to
steal, living large at taxpayer expense, ignoring laws that apply to ordinary
Americans and betraying the trust of the public that put them there.
"There's no doubt that politics attracts the glib, the fast talker and the
con artist," says retired Southern Illinois University political scientist
George Harleigh. "It's a natural place for those who think fast on their
- House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is currently under fire for his many ethical
breaches. Congress has always had its share of rogues and scoundrels, including:
- Ohio Congressman Bob Trafficant, currently in prison for fraud, influence
peddling and money laundering.
- Adam Clayton Powell, the fast-talking Harlem Congressman who was re-elected
even after Congress expelled him in 1967.Powell had survived charges of income-tax
evasion (with a hung jury) even before his first election to Congress.
Wes Cooley, the Oregon Congressman who lied about serving in the Korean War,
quit Congress under a cloud in 1996, and was later convicted of falsifying
VA loan applications.
- California Congressman Walter Tucker, who quit Congress in 1996 just before
his conviction for accepting $30,000 in bribes and sentenced to 27 months
in the federal pen.
- Congressmen have gone to jail for child molestation, bribery, fraud, misuse
of public funds and various crimes and misdemeanors. Some have resigned in
disgrace: Wayne Hayes because he put his mistress on his payroll as a secretary
(she couldn't type) or Wilbur Mills because he messed around with a stripper.
- Yet Gary Studds of Massachusetts seduced a young male House page, defied
the House when it censured him and was re-elected several times. But Dan Crane
of Illinois had sex with a female page, cried and begged forgiveness on the
floor of the House and lost his next election.
- Rep. Barney Frank, also of Massachussets, the most openly-gay member of
Congres, shared his Washington townhouse with a male prostitute who ran a
homosexual whorehouse out of the residence. But that didn't stop him from
winning re-election easily or serving as the primary Democratic defender of
Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
"Congressional corruption has no party, no ideology and no gender,"
says Constitutional Scholar Alan Baker. "It's bipartisan and soaked in
history and tradition. It also often defies logic."
Sociologist Sandra Reeves believes public perception of widespread corruption
among elected officials is one of the reasons for the widespread ambivalence
over Bill Clinton's sex and money scandals or the current problems of House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
"If the public felt Congress was an honest institution, there might be
more outrage," Reeves says. "But too many people feel too many of
those in our government are dirty."
"Right when the Republicans were trying to prove malfeasance on the part
of the Clinton administration in accepting campaign contributions from foreign
sources, they have one of their own (Congressman Jay Kim of California) convicted
of doing the same thing," Harleigh says. "But instead of sending him
packing, they embrace him and talk about what a great guy he is and how important
he is to Congress and the party. What kind of message does that send?"
Congress is nearly always slow to act against its own. It took the Senate three
years to investigate and finally get rid of serial sexual harasser Senator Bob
Packwood of Oregon. Many of Packwood's Republican colleagues defended him right
up until the end.
"The leadership of both Houses of Congress needs a serious wake up call,"
says Baker. "You can't preach morality and family values while you wink
and look the other way when one your own breaks the law."
In 1983, California Congressman Bob Dornan went to Grenada with a delegation
to review the American military intervention of the Caribbean island. He tried
to leave the island with a stolen Russian AK-47 in his suitcase, but the weapon
was discovered by U.S. Military Personnel and confiscated.
"He threw a royal hissy fit," says retired Army Sgt. Andy Mackie,
who was on Grenada at the time. "He kept ranting and raving about how he
was a Congressman and if he wanted an AK-47 we had no right to take it from
him." The Army kept the weapon and destroyed it.
In 1982, former New York Congressman Norman Lent tried to have 50 counterfeit
Rolex watches sent to him from Taiwan. When customs officers in Baltimore seized
shipment, Lent called the Director of the Customs Service on the carpet and
demanded to know why his watches were taken. The director stood his ground and
the watches were destroyed.
"We're talking about a culture of 'I'm better than everyone else' and
'I don't have to answer to anyone,'" says Baker. "It is pervasive
and it has been part of the Congressional culture for a long time. You may hear
a lot of talk about accountability and reform, but it simply is not happening."
Former GOP House Staffer Jonathan Luckstill says his tenure on the Hill taught
him that a crime is only a crime when the other party commits it.
"If a Democrat is caught breaking the law, that's justice," he says.
"But when a Republican is charged, it's politics."
© Copyright 2004 by Capitol Hill Blue