Group urges ethics probe

A watchdog group, naming what it calls "the 13 most corrupt members of Congress," is calling for ethics investigations of some of the most prominent political leaders on Capitol Hill in a report to be released tomorrow.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) claims in its report that the 13 members, among them Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, violated a variety of congressional ethics rules.

The bipartisan list includes California GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, one of two House members whose residences have been searched as part of separate federal criminal investigations. The other, Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, also is on CREW's list.

Three on the list - Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Republican Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida - are named for their dealings with one-time super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is the subject of congressional and federal grand jury investigations. Abramoff was indicted last month on fraud charges from a Florida business deal.

"They all violated ethics rules," Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, said of the 13 Congress members. She criticized both parties for failing to police ethics.

Spokespeople for some of the 13 members dismissed the report as "pure politics."

Ney press secretary Brian Walsh said: "We don't give Melanie Sloan and her liberal organization an ounce of credibility."

The report is called Beyond DeLay: The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress and is based, CREW said, on news articles and other documents. The report was made available to the Los Angeles Times by the watchdog group.

Sloan expressed impatience with both parties: "Democrats are just as much to blame as Republicans for the current ethics deadlock. The Democrats won't file ethics complaints against even the most egregious violators like [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay and Ney."

Sloan has been unable to get any member of the House to file ethics complaints against Ney and Cunningham. House rules do not permit outside groups to file complaints.

The 13 congressional figures recommended for investigation by the watchdog group are:

  • Frist. The report accused him of violating federal campaign finance laws in how he disclosed a campaign loan. It also called for an inquiry into his recent sale of stock in HCA, his family's hospital corporation. The sale has raised questions about possible insider dealing. Frist aides confirmed Friday that the SEC is investigating.

  • Blunt. He was criticized for trying to insert provisions into bills that in one case would have benefited a client of his lobbyist son and, in the other case, the employer of his lobbyist girlfriend, now his wife.

  • Burns. Questions arose over $3 million in appropriations he earmarked for a Michigan tribal client of lobbyist Abramoff. The senator received substantial campaign contributions from Abramoff and various clients.

    "Senator Burns did nothing wrong, and any accusation to the contrary is pure politics," said James Pendleton, his director of communications. Pendleton said that Burns earmarked the appropriation at the request of the Michigan delegation.

  • Ney. The chairman of the House Administration Committee went on a golf outing to Scotland in 2002 arranged by Abramoff at a time when the congressman was trying to insert a provision into legislation to benefit one of Abramoff's tribal clients. The tribe arranged for funds to pay a portion of the trip.

    But Ney reported to the House that the trip was paid entirely by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank that denied paying any of the costs.

  • Feeney. He incorrectly reported that a golf outing to Scotland with Abramoff in 2003 was paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, which denied it. A Feeney aide said the congressman was misled.

  • Rep. Richard W. Pombo, a California Republican. He paid his wife and brother $357,325 in campaign funds in the past four years. He also supported the wind power industry before the Department of Interior without disclosing that his parents received hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from wind power turbines on their ranch.

    Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for Pombo, said, "Each of the charges is baseless."

  • Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat. The report cites a December 2004 Los Angeles Times investigation disclosing how members of the congresswoman's family have made more than $1 million in the past eight years by doing business with companies, candidates and causes that Waters has helped.

  • Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican. The senator encountered controversy over disclosures that local Pennsylvania taxpayers paid for his children's schooling while they lived in Virginia. Santorum maintained that he did nothing wrong and has since pulled his children out of the school, said news reports.

  • Cunningham and Jefferson. Both congressional veterans are under federal investigation. Cunningham, who has announced that he will not run for re-election, faces questions over his dealings with a defense contractor who allegedly overpaid him when he purchased Cunningham's house. Jefferson is under scrutiny for his role in an overseas business deal.

  • Rep. Charles H. Taylor, a North Carolina Republican. Questions have been raised about his private business interests, including a savings and loan in Asheville and business interests in Russia.

  • Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican, and Rep. Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican. Both encountered criticisms tied to campaign activities. Musgrave was accused of misusing her congressional office for campaign purposes. Renzi was accused of financing portions of his 2002 campaign with improper loans.

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