Scandalized Lawmakers Face Voters

Posted November 3, 2008 at 6:50pm

Updated: 8:30 a.m. Nov. 5

While there’s never a shortage of scandal on Capitol Hill — the sins of lawmakers exposed in recent months range from secret love children to unpaid taxes — misdeeds in the 110th Congress just aren’t generating a commotion this cycle.

The then-Democratic minority sought in the 2006 cycle to highlight Republicans’ relations with lobbyists, including the disgraced Jack Abramoff, and used the “culture of corruption” mantra as one of its primary campaign themes.

Instead, in the lead-up to this Election Day, the impact of Members’ inappropriate behavior appears largely confined to individual Senate or House races, but overshadowed by voters’ economic concerns as well as the presidential race.

“It’s a pale carbon copy of the issue it was two years ago,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst and Roll Call contributing writer.

Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, said that ethics is not playing a large part in national campaign talking points because both parties have ethical problems they would prefer not to talk about. The conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) makes it hard for Republicans to talk about ethical issues, and “Democrats don’t have a reason to raise ethics because they are the majority party,” Allison said.

Democratic attacks on ethics would invariably invite Republicans to remind voters of misdeeds involving Democratic Reps. Charlie Rangel (failure to report income), William Jefferson (federal corruption indictment) and Tim Mahoney (a man of many mistresses).

The silence of both parties on the issue nationally, Allison said, is a reminder that “it is the voters who are ultimately responsible for enforcing ethics in Washington.”

But real and alleged misdeeds could still play a central role on Election Day in a handful of races.

Alaska Senate

Incumbent: Ted Stevens (R)

Stevens, the most senior Republican in the U.S. Senate, was running neck and neck with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) before a federal jury in Washington, D.C., convicted the Senator of seven counts of failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms. Stevens has accused the prosecution of misconduct and has vowed to appeal the verdict, but members of his own party — including National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — have called on him to resign.

If Stevens wins re-election, he may still face sanctions from the Ethics Committee, not to mention his sentencing in federal court in the spring, and months if not years of appeals.

Result: Stevens maintains a lead of 48 percent to 45 percent over Begich with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.

Alaska’s at-large district

Incumbent: Don Young (R)

Young, an 18-term incumbent, is in trouble. The Congressman narrowly survived a primary in September, beating Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell by just over 300 votes. He has faced a range of allegations since his last election, including charges that he inserted an earmark into legislation on behalf of a campaign contributor after the House and Senate had passed the bill. News reports have also suggested that federal officials are investigating his ties to oil services firm VECO. And conservative groups have opposed his re-election because he is a champion of bringing federal earmarks back to Alaska.

Young has trailed in all recent public polling against the Democratic nominee, former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, but the race is very close.

Result: Young leads Berkowitz 51.5 percent to 43.9 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.

Arizona’s 1st district

Open seat: Rick Renzi (R) is retiring

Renzi was indicted in February on 35 corruption charges involving allegations that he siphoned money from his family business into his campaign coffers and that he pushed a land deal in Congress to benefit a former business partner who owed him money.

After Renzi announced his retirement, Republicans had a hard time luring their top candidates into the race. Sydney Hay, a conservative anti-tax activist who ran for the seat in 2002 and lost the GOP primary to Renzi, is the nominee. Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) resigned her seat in the Legislature in July 2007 to run in the 1st district and she won her primary handily. Kirkpatrick is widely viewed as the favorite in this race.

Result: Kirkpatrick leads Hay 55.9 percent to 39.4 percent with all precincts reporting, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.

California’s 4th district

Open seat: John Doolittle (R) is retiring

Doolittle, who has for years been haunted by his relationship with disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and by payments to his wife from his campaign treasury, announced his retirement in January.

FBI agents raided his Virginia home in April 2007, and Doolittle and five of his aides have testified before the grand jury. One former top aide who joined Abramoff’s lobbying team was indicted in September for providing gifts to Members of Congress in exchange for actions they took to benefit Abramoff clients.

Air Force veteran Charlie Brown is the Democratic candidate again, having lost narrowly to Doolittle in 2006. The GOP candidate is state Sen. Tom McClintock, who won a tough primary over former Rep. Doug Ose. Polls have shown the race between Brown and McClintock to be close.

Result: The race remains too close to call as McClintock edges Brown 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent with all precincts reporting, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

California’s 51st district

Incumbent: Bob Filner (D)

Filner lost his temper at an airport and wound up in court, facing a charge of assaulting an airport employee when he went searching for his luggage in August 2007. Filner ultimately worked out a plea deal, paid a $100 fine and apologized for behaving “discourteously.” The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct concluded that his conduct reflected poorly on the House, but it declined to take any action against him.

The whole affair is likely to have little impact on his legislative career. He glided through a primary against an unheralded challenger and is unlikely to face any serious drama on Election Day.

Result: Filner cruises to another term with 71.5 percent of the vote, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

Florida’s 13th district
Incumbent: Vern Buchanan (R)

The Republican-leaning district will host a rematch between freshman Buchanan and Democratic challenger Christine Jennings, who lost the 2006 race by a mere 369 votes.

Despite a series of lawsuits alleging fraud at car dealerships Buchanan owns — featuring assertions of campaign finance violations, including paying reimbursements to company employees for political donations — the Republican leads Jennings in recent polls. In addition, Jennings must contend with former Democratic candidate Jan Schneider, who appears on the ballot as an Independent.

Jennings never conceded her loss in 2006, lodging legal challenges and administrative complaints, and even forcing a House investigation, none of which resulted in her favor.

Result: Buchanan defeated Jennings 55 percent to 38 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Florida’s 16th district
Incumbent: Tim Mahoney (D)

It’s déjà vu all over again in Florida.

Mahoney, a freshman, won an easy victory in 2006 when a scandalized Rep. Mark Foley (R) resigned just weeks before Election Day amid allegations he exchanged lewd online messages with underage House pages.

This time around, Mahoney is ensconced in his own sex scandal following revelations that he had an affair with a former staffer, allegedly paying the aide $121,000 to remain mum about the relationship.

Mahoney confessed to that affair and another with a local Florida official, but he suggested at an October press conference that his extramarital activities were more extensive.

“I don’t know what other women are going to come out,” Mahoney said. His wife has since filed for divorce.

Mahoney also faces an investigation by the House ethics committee in connection to the incident.

In the Republican-leaning district, the disclosures put Mahoney on the defensive, and he faces a tough challenge from Republican nominee Tom Rooney. Rooney, an attorney, is part of the family that owns the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Result: Rooney defeated Mahoney 60 percent to 40 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Florida’s 24th district
Incumbent: Tom Feeney (R)

Feeney is still apologizing for a 2003 golf trip he took with Jack Abramoff. Feeney, a third-term Congressman, insists he did nothing wrong. But in late September, he aired a TV ad apologizing for his “rookie mistake” and telling voters, “I embarrassed myself, I embarrassed you, and for that, I’m very sorry.” The FBI has been looking into Feeney’s involvement with Abramoff, though it is not clear that the probe is going anywhere.

Former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas is Feeney’s well-funded Democratic challenger, and she appears to have the edge in the race.

Result: Voters ousted Feeney, who lost 41 percent to Kosmas’ 57 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Idaho Senate
Open seat: Larry Craig (R) is retiring

This is the seat that introduced the term “wide stance” into American scatological humor. Craig was arrested in the summer of 2007 in a Minneapolis airport men’s room under suspicion of soliciting sex. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, but after Roll Call reported his arrest, Craig tried to rescind his plea, a legal saga that is ongoing.

Craig originally announced that he would resign, then backpedaled and decided simply not to run for re-election.

Despite Craig’s flame-out, Republicans are expected to hold the seat. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) faces ex-Rep. Larry LaRocco (D) and former rancher Rex Rammell, a Republican running as an Independent, and polls show Risch comfortably holding off both of them.

Result: Risch leads LaRocco by a wide margin, 58 percent to 34 percent, with 93 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Idaho Secretary of State.

Illinois’ 11th district
Open seat: Jerry Weller (R) is retiring

In this race the scandal is not the race, it is the backdrop to the race. Two weeks after the Chicago Tribune published an investigation indicating that Weller had failed to report the true value of his land holdings in Nicaragua last year, the seven-term Congressman announced his intention to retire. State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson quickly cleared the Democratic field and has been raising money steadily. New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann won the Republican primary but then dropped out of the race. Republicans then turned to wealthy building contractor Marty Ozinga.

The race has been close, but Halvorson has appeared to be pulling away in recent weeks.

Result: Halvorson leads Ozinga 58 percent to 35 percent with 96 percent of districts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Louisiana’s 2nd district
Incumbent: William Jefferson (D)

Jefferson was indicted on 16 corruption counts on June 4, 2007, and faces trial in December on allegations that he used his office to help businessmen pursue contracts in Africa in exchange for payments to firms owned by his family members. Nevertheless, he finished first in a crowded Democratic primary in early October.

On Election Day, Jefferson faces a Democratic runoff against Helena Moreno, a former TV news personality in New Orleans, and race is likely to play a significant role in the outcome. If Jefferson survives the runoff, he still faces a hurricane-delayed general election on Dec. 6, two days after his trial is scheduled to begin.

Result: Jefferson defeated Moreno in the Democratic primary 56.8 percent to 43.2 percent, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State. He faces Republican Anh Cao in the Dec. 6 general.

Michigan’s 13th district
Incumbent: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D)

The scandal in this race has nothing to do with Kilpatrick — it is her son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D), who admitted that he lied to cover up an affair he was having with his chief of staff. The scheme unraveled when the steamy text messages between the two were leaked to the press. Six-term Rep. Kilpatrick narrowly survived a three-way Democratic primary, collecting fewer than 21,000 votes in the process, and acknowledged that her son’s legal troubles were a burden in that race. But she is expected to cruise to victory in the general election.

Result: Kilpatrick wins with 74 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Minnesota Senate
Incumbent: Norm Coleman (R)

Both Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken have defended ethical blunders in the race.

Franken, a comedian and radio personality, earlier this year disclosed a discombobulated personal income tax record, including underpayments to multiple states of about $70,000 and overpayments to Minnesota and New York. In addition, Republican opposition research disclosed that Franken’s corporation owed $30,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties in both New York and California.

Coleman has denied allegations filed as part of a Texas lawsuit last week that a donor, Nasser Kazeminy, paid $75,000 to a company that employs Coleman’s wife in an effort to skirt financial disclosure rules.

The Senate contest is among the most competitive in the country, with both parties spending heavily in Minnesota.

Independence Party nominee Dean Barkley, who served briefly in the Senate in late 2002, is also on the ballot Tuesday.

Result: The Associated Press called the race for Coleman, who leads 42 percent to 41.96 percent, with Independent Dean Barkley garnering 15.16 percent, According to the Minnesota Secretary of State.

New Mexico Senate

Open seat: Pete Domenici (R) is retiring

Domenici, who is retiring after six terms in the Senate, played a key role in the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, one of nine U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department in 2006. The firings became a scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales when he was unable to provide Congress with satisfactory answers for how the department decided which attorneys to terminate. A Justice Department investigation released in September concluded that Domenici’s complaints to the White House about Iglesias’ failure to pursue voter fraud cases in the state were a central factor in the DOJ adding him to the termination list, despite the fact that he had generally good performance reviews.

Domenici’s hand-picked successor was Rep. Heather Wilson (R), who acknowledged that she had placed calls to Iglesias asking him to follow up on voter fraud cases. Iglesias said he believed the calls were intended to pressure him into bringing criminal charges. The Justice Department investigation indicates that Wilson may have called then-White House counsel Harriet Miers to complain about Iglesias, but the investigators could not document the call, and Wilson denied it.

Wilson lost the primary to Rep. Steve Pearce (R).

Polls have consistently shown Democratic nominee Rep. Tom Udall with a healthy lead, and Pearce’s campaign war chest was virtually depleted by the primary.

Result: Udall holds a lead of 61.2 percent to 38.8 percent over Pearce with 97 percent of precincts reporting, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State.

New Mexico’s 1st district
Open seat: Heather Wilson (R) lost in the Senate primary

See above.

The race to succeed Wilson features former Albuquerque City Councilor Martin Heinrich (D) and Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White (R). On paper, this district favors Democrats slightly, but Republicans have held this seat since 1968. Latest poll numbers have Heinrich leading narrowly.

Result: Heinrich leads White 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent with 97 percent of precincts reporting, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State.

New York’s 13th district

Open seat: Vito Fossella (R) is retiring

A safe Republican seat crumbled in the wee hours of May 1 when Fossella was arrested for drunken driving in Alexandria, Va. It turned out the married six-term Congressman was on his way to visit his mistress and their child, a fact that was soon splashed across the front pages of New York’s tabloids.

Republicans chose Frank Powers, a wealthy retired Wall Street executive, to replace Fossella, but Powers died in his sleep on June 22. The GOP standard-bearer is now former state Assemblyman Robert Straniere, who is unpopular in his own party.

The Democratic candidate is New York City Councilman Michael McMahon, who is considered an overwhelming favorite.

Result: McMahon leads Straniere 61 percent to 33 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

New York’s 15th district
Incumbent: Charlie Rangel (D)

Despite being pummeled in media reports over a series of alleged ethical missteps, Rangel is expected to cruise to re-election for his 20th term in the House.

Elected with 94 percent of the vote in 2006, Rangel faces token opposition from Republican Edward Daniels, Socialist Workers candidate Martin Koppel and Vote People for Change candidate Craig Schley.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced in September the creation of a special subcommittee to probe whether Rangel violated House rules.

The New Yorker, who requested the committee’s investigation, declared at that time that he would hire a specialized auditor to review his personal finances.

Rangel has acknowledged that he failed to report rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic on tax forms and Congressional financial disclosure forms. He has estimated that he owes $10,000 in back taxes and penalties.

The ethics panel will examine that issue, as well as allegations that Rangel used Congressional letterhead in fundraising efforts for a City College of New York facility bearing his name, that he improperly used House parking facilities for long-term storage of a vehicle and his use of several rent-controlled apartments as his primary residence in New York.

Result: Rangel wins with 87 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Pennsylvania’s 11th district
Incumbent: Paul Kanjorski (D)

Kanjorski is banking that his bid for a 13th term in the House isn’t an unlucky one.

The incumbent faces a rematch with Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R), whom he defeated handily in 2002 despite GOP gains elsewhere.

But this time, Barletta poses a more serious challenge, with a recent poll conducted for Roll Call showing Kanjorski trailing the Republican by a margin of 6 points.

Kanjorski has faced scrutiny in recent years over allegations that he steered nearly $10 million in earmarks to the research firm Cornerstone Technologies, which was run by several of the lawmaker’s relatives before it shut its doors in 2006.

Barletta has gained national attention for his stringent anti-illegal-immigration efforts.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Kanjorski might get any boost from Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) selection of Scranton’s favorite son, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), as his running mate.

Result: Kanjorski leads Barletta 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.