Report Lists Most Corrupt Members of Congress

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit government watchdog organization, released its annual report this week of the most corrupt members of Congress. The list includes 10 Republicans and four Democrats.

The Republican House members who made the list are Charles Bass (N.H.), Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Stephen Fincher (Tenn.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.), Frank Guinta (N.H.), David Rivera (Fla.), Hal Rogers (Ky.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio), and Joe Walsh (Ill.).

The Democratic House members on the list are Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Nick Rahall (W.V.), Laura Richardson (Calif.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.).

Only one Senator made the list, David Vitter (R-La.). Vitter was also on CREW's 2007 list for soliciting prostitutes, but was re-elected in 2010.

Since CREW only accounts for behavior for the past year for each year's list, Vitter's sexual misconduct was not taken into account in this year’s report. Instead, Vitter made the list for improper use of office personnel and funds to aid a legislative assistant with personal legal matters. The assistant had been charged, on two separate occasions, with drunk driving and physically abusing his girlfriend.

A member of Congress does not need to violate the law to make the list. CREW's definition of corruption also includes unethical, yet legal, behavior, and placing personal or special interests before the interests of the public.

CREW does not rank the lawmakers, but three of the 14 stand out. Rivera, Buchanan and Meeks have engaged in conduct that may be criminal.

Rivera is currently under investigation by the FBI, IRS and three Florida law enforcement agencies for multiple money laundering and tax evasion schemes related to an effort to legalize casinos in Florida.

Buchanan, re-elected to his third term in 2010, makes CREW's list for the third time. He allegedly pressured employees of his car dealerships in Florida to make contributions to his campaign, which were later reimbursed out of company funds. Under federal law, it is illegal for corporations to give money to political campaigns.

Meeks bought a home for $830,000, in Queens, N.Y., which was later appraised by The New York Times at more than $1.2 million. The home was built by Robert Gaskin, who also contributed to Meeks' campaign. Gaskin's company benefited from federal funds that Meeks helped him obtain. In addition, Meeks and two other New York politicians are being investigated for using nonprofit organizations to benefit themselves. One of those organizations raised money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The CREW report only includes current members of Congress. Former Reps. Therefore, former news-making Representatives Christopher Lee (R-N.Y.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and David Wu (D-Ore.) are not included. All three left Congress after revelations of indecent sexual behavior.

The report includes five members whose violations were not serious enough to make the list, but were still deserving of “dishonorable mentions.” Those members, all in the House, are Joe Barton (R-Texas), Shelley Berkeley (D-Nev.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).

Interestingly, public perception suggests that members of Congress will become more corrupt the longer they stay in Washington, and the 2010 election was a step towards reforming the Washington establishment and “throwing the bums out.” Six of the 14 on the “Most Corrupt” list, however, are freshman Republicans.

The full report is 132 pages long and each allegation is documented. Sources include congressional committee reports, court documents, Federal Election Commission reports, news reports and financial disclosures filed by the members themselves.

The full report can be downloaded from CREW's website where you can also vote for who you think is the most corrupt member of Congress.