Topic: Government & Politics

Ethics Scoreboard Presents the 2004 "Dirty Dozen":
12 Unethical Candidates Not to Vote For on November 2

(11/1/2004)

The American public routinely bemoans the ethical values of its politicians and elected officials, but seldom holds them accountable for ethical misconduct. This is why there is a statue of James Michael Curley in Boston, Massachusetts, in honor of the spectacularly corrupt mayor who maintained his popularity by delivering the goods when it mattered. Still, the voters will only take so much, and thus scandal-plagued Governors Rowland in Connecticut and McGreevey in New Jersey are not running this year (both have resigned), leaving the usually well-stocked supply of ethically-challenged governors unusually thin on this year's "Dirty Dozen" Still, there are plenty of candidates for Senator and Representative this year with enough of a proven deficit in values and integrity to justify voting against them regardless of their opposition. Here they are: twelve incumbents and challengers (9 Republicans and 3 Democrats) for Americans who care about ethics to vote against, in reverse order of ethical offensiveness.

12. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

If you're a big fan of nepotism, you'll love the Murkowski family. When her father, Frank Murkowski, left the Senate mid-term to run successfully for Alaska's governorship, he took the opportunity to appoint his darling daughter as his replacement. Touching, gutsy, and wrong. Talk about the appearance of impropriety…how much careful weighing of qualifications do you think went into that decision? Lisa is completely complicit in the abuse: she should have had the principles to refuse her father's gift of something that wasn't his to hand out like a new car as a graduation present. This was a blatant abuse of power by a family more concerned with itself than the people of Alaska, its real constituency. If Lisa Murchowski can get elected senator without unethical help from Big Daddy, all power to her; but for that to happen, she has to lose now. Any other result is an endorsement of nepotism and abuse of power.

11. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY)

Hall of Fame pitcher Bunning has put himself in jeopardy by behaving lately as if he's a knuckleball, but he's also engaged in below-the-belt campaign tactics by allowing his campaign to make innuendos that Democratic challenger Daniel Mongiardo, a bachelor, is gay. In a state where opposition to gay marriage is strong, this is especially Machiavellian, but it is also inexcusable on ethical grounds. By allowing a surrogate to call Mongiardo a "limp wrist" (Bunning's hit man later said he was only contrasting the old pitcher's strong snap on a fastball to the challenger's inexperience. Right.), Bunning is simply appealing to hate and bigotry, qualities that we don't need any more of in government, thanks. Time for the old right-hander to hit the showers.

10. Gov. Craig Benson (R-NH)

Governor Benson has explanations for most of the ethical problems surrounding his associates and himself, but there are just too many to believe that the Governor isn't corrupt. According to an SEC finding last year, his tenure on the audit committee of a company called Enterasys Networks prior to becoming governor coincided with the company's fraud on investors by falsifying its accounts. Once he was elected, he managed to find jobs for a raft of cohorts from his own defunct company Cabletron, regardless of their qualifications or, uh, ethical orientation. In what one prominent state Republican called "the biggest ethics scandal in New Hampshire history," one of Benson's Cabletron buddies and a member of his transition team was awarded an $885 grand no-bid contract by Benson's administration, in a transaction engineered by yet another Cabletron alumnus who was being paid thousands in potentially illegal fees from the state's health insurer broker contract. Benson made his former personal assistant at Cabletron the "volunteer" head of homeland security, and it was later revealed that she was being paid by one of the governor's private companies as she doubled as his personal investment guru. There's more, but this is plenty. The one up-side of Benson's seamy tenure is that it has goosed the legislature into passing the state's first ethics law.

9. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)

McKinney is running again for the seat she was booted from in the wake of her inexcusable suggestion that President Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks and "profited" from them. Prior to that, she had gained a well-deserved reputation as the House's number one race-baiter, accusing everyone from the Supreme Court to Al Gore to her political opponents of being racists. Hers is a variety of mean-spirited and slanderous politics that divides communities, races and nations, and whether she conducts herself this way out of cynical political calculation, because of genuine ingrained distrust and disrespect for anyone with the audacity to oppose her, it is neither ethical nor tolerable.

8. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA)

Like former Congresswoman McKinney, McDermott has consistently crossed the line between offering criticism of the President and damaging the government's prestige and credibility here and abroad. Prior to the Iraq War, he implied that Saddam Hussein's word was more trustworthy than the American President's. More recently, he suggested that the administration was not above secretly capturing Osama Bin Laden and holding him until the capture could have maximum impact on the election. Such statements violate many ethical values, despite their protection under the First Amendment. They are irresponsible, they are uncivil; they are disrespectful, and cause needless harm to satisfy naked political ends. McDermott could oppose the Administration's policies vigorously without impugning its good faith or honesty. Resorting to wild accusations and implying that the President is capable of such egregious misconduct cannot be justified.

7. Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA)

Rep. Nethercutt is running for the Senate seat occupied by Democrat Patty Murray, and we would wish him well, except that his political career has been based on false pretenses. For Congressman Nethercutt unseated House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 by pledging to limit himself to two terms. He has now served five terms, and the fact that his forgiving constituency has chosen to help him break his pledge doesn't change the fact that he cannot be trusted to keep his word. It is difficult for some to recall now, but the idea behind term limits was to remove the temptation for representatives to concentrate on perpetual re-election rather than serving the public welfare by self-restraint. Nethercutt used the issue to win, then discarded the principle as soon as it benefitted him. Fortunately, if he loses his bid for the Senate, his tenure in the House will also come to an end…three terms later than he promised.

6. Rep. Rodney Alexander, (R-La.)

Alexander, formerly the Democratic Congressman from Louisiana's 5th District, switched parties at the 11th hour, apparently preventing a Democrat from running for the seat. A court challenge managed to produce a Democratic candidate, but it took the threat of more law suits to get Alexander to return the tens of thousands in campaign contributions he had received as a Democrat. Alexander's switcheroo is marginally better than the post-election Jim Jeffords variety, but under-handed and unethical nonetheless. The right way to do it was demonstrated by former Texas Senator Phil Graham, who resigned his seat (and lost his seniority) when he decided to switch aisles, and ran a new campaign as a Republican. Ethics Scoreboard would like to see a rule that requires resignation before a sitting senator or congressman can change parties; absent one, we'll settle for the principle of sending such turncoats back to private life.

5. Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.)

This is the Congressman who tried to carry his bag containing a loaded 9 mm Glock pistol on board a domestic airline at the Louisville airport. His explanation: "he forgot." The Ethics Scoreboard's explanation: the Congressman is a reckless and arrogant sort who doesn't take his responsibilities as either a citizen or an elected representative very seriously. One of his constituents who "forgot" and did the same thing would be in serious hot water, but Hostettler wasn't even arrested, and even joked about the incident, which, it should be emphasized, potentially endangered both the passengers and others. Anyone can make a mistake, but elected representatives can't make this mistake, which is a signature act of someone too careless and irresponsible to be trusted with high office, and certainly with a 9 mm Glock.

4. Rep. Roy Blount (R-Mo)

Conflict of interest doesn't get much more outrageous than this: Blount, the House Majority Whip, was romantically involved with a lobbyist for a Fortune 500 company (this itself is a conflict, and a violation of House ethics rules) and then attempted to please her and her employers by grafting legislation favorable to the company onto the Homeland Security Bill. His maneuver didn't work, and even members of his own party were disturbed by it. But it's the thought that counts, apparently: he and the lobbyist are now engaged! Ah, what we do for love!

Except that the Congress isn't Blount's personal Hallmark store. He deserves to be sacked.

3. Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio)

What does it say about Congress's credibility in tightening the ethics rules for corporations that one of the names on the famous law spurred by Enron and other scandals belongs to one of the Dirty Dozen? Ohio Congressman Mike Oxley, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, should have faced a serious investigation and sanctions for a seamy transaction in which he offered to drop a much-needed probe of the mutual insurance industry if its Washington-based trade group, the Investment Company Institute, agreed to hire a Republican to oversee its lobbying efforts. House Democrats balked at filing an ethics complaint after Tom DeLay and Company threatened to counter with a volley of ethics complaints against Democrats. Though this tactic finally collapsed with DeLay's own ethical problems, it managed to spare Oxley, so far at least. Needed: a new name for the Sarbanes-Oxley act, one that won't provoke giggling. Also needed: a new representative for Ohio's 4th District.

2. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.)

Moran is the poster boy for the impotence of the House Ethics Committee. In the past he has accepted a personal loan from a lobbyist prior to voting the lobbyist's way on legislation (Moran said there was no connection, as if "avoiding the appearance of impropriety" was an alien concept to him…which, come to think of it, it probably is) and took a below market low-interest mortgage from a bank that also wanted his vote...and got it, naturally. Moran's been a relatively good boy so far in his current term, other than making an offensive statement that powerful Jewish interests dictated US foreign policy. But if the House ever bothered to enforce its ethics rules, Moran wouldn't have had a chance to make that claim, because he'd be, oh, I don't know, selling used cars instead of accepting handouts from corporate interests. He should have been replaced several terms ago, but better late than later.

1. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX)

The GOP Majority Leader in the House is also, by any objective measure, the least ethical member in Congress. He has been reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee three times, an amazing accomplishment. He has misused charitable functions for political purposes; he has abused power (by using the FAA for the partisan task of tracking down the Texas legislature's runaway Democrats); he undoubtedly had a hand in the attempted extortion of Michigan Representative Nick Smith when he balked at the Medicare Bill; he managed to funnel money from Westar Energy's CEO to his political allies as the energy company sought a key regulatory exemption that would have netted a windfall. And these are just a sampling. DeLay's whole operating philosophy is based on only one thing: prevailing over the opposition. To him, ethics complaints are just a nuisance to be quashed by reprisals and guerilla politics. As long as an unrepentant old school pol like DeLay leads the Republicans in the House, any efforts to significantly improve ethical conduct on Capitol Hill will be futile. Leadership always sets the tone, and the tone set by Mr. DeLay is that ethics is for losers. There should be no higher priority than to get DeLay out of the Congressional high command, and there is no better way to accomplish that than to vote him out of office.

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