Any thoughts?Mollohan, Jefferson Cases Hamper Democrats' Attacks Over Ethics
May 16 (Bloomberg) -- House Democrats' efforts to capitalize on what they call a Republican-created ``culture of corruption'' in Washington are being complicated by ethical allegations against two of their own members.
Representative Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, until April the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee, said yesterday he's reviewing his financial disclosures after being accused of misstating personal assets. Fellow Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana vowed to stay in office and fight allegations that he accepted bribes.
Democrats have focused on Republican scandals as they try to regain control of Congress amid sagging approval ratings for President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans.
The ethics problem ``seems to transcend party affiliation,'' said Amy Walter, House editor of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan Washington newsletter. ``An overwhelming focus on this corruption issue feeds into the negative stereotype that voters have about Congress, which is that it's just one side trying to score points off the other.''
A statement issued by Mollohan, 63, said he's ``confident in the fundamental accuracy'' of his financial statements. Jefferson, 59, declared his innocence at a news conference in New Orleans yesterday, almost two weeks after an associate pleaded guilty to bribing him.
A prime example cited by Democrats is Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist who pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt public officials. Abramoff is cooperating with federal prosecutors in Washington who have won three other guilty pleas from former aides to Republican Representatives Bob Ney of Ohio and Tom DeLay of Texas. DeLay, who's resigning from Congress, and Ney, who gave up a committee chairmanship, both deny wrongdoing.
Another Republican scandal involves Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham, a former representative from California who was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison in March after admitting he took $2.4 million in defense contractors' bribes.
The investigation has expanded. Prosecutors are looking at the relationship between former Central Intelligence Agency Executive Director Kyle ``Dusty'' Foggo and the contractors. Also, the Los Angeles Times reported a related inquiry into U.S. Representative Jerry Lewis, a California Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. Lewis has said he's unaware of any investigation.
Republicans say such scandals won't affect other candidates around the country.
``We don't know of any member who lost because of something another member did or didn't do,'' said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Even so, individual allegations affect individual races and Mollohan's district is now a target for Republicans, he said.
Former House Democratic Leader Tony Coelho said Republicans will be hurt by any public outrage about congressional ethics because they are in control. Coelho, who resigned in 1989 rather than face an extended ethics investigation over an investment he made, likened today's atmosphere to 1994, when a banking scandal helped Republicans reclaim the House.
``It doesn't make any difference how many Democrats are involved,'' Coelho said. ``If the public turns off because of `corruption,' they will blame the party in power.''
Republican pollster Ed Goeas said a survey he conducted with Democrat Celinda Lake shows that Americans aren't holding only the GOP responsible. Asked who was more to blame for ethics issues in Congress such as the Abramoff scandal, 64 percent said both parties equally, while 20 percent picked Republicans and 11 percent said Democrats.
``There's kind of a basic distrust of government,'' Goeas said. ``When you have things popping up on both sides of the aisle, all that does is reinforce the basic instinct of the people, which is it's on both sides.''
Mollohan temporarily stepped down from the ethics committee on April 21. The U.S. attorney's office in Washington is examining his financial disclosures after an outside group, the National Legal and Policy Center, turned over results of an investigation it said shows the lawmaker misreported assets on his House financial disclosure statements from 1996 to 2004.
Mollohan in 2000 listed ``income-producing'' assets of $179,012 to $562,000, the group found. In 2004, he listed such assets of $6.3 million to $24.9 million, including a beach house.
``It's quite clear that he became rich in a very short period of time in a way that he has failed to explain properly,'' said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.
The group said its investigation showed that Mollohan didn't disclose some assets or underreported their value.
Real Estate Investments
Boehm's group, which is based in Falls Church, Virginia, also said that Mollohan and his wife own more than $2 million in real estate investments with a former aide, Laura Kuhns, and her husband. Kuhns worked with nonprofit foundations that benefited from millions of dollars in special projects that Mollohan added to spending bills between 2000 and 2005, using his post as a member of the appropriations committee, the group said.
Mollohan wrote in a letter to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi last month that he is the victim of a ``concerted, politically motivated attack on my ethics.''
Yesterday, Mollohan said he will release the findings of his review as soon as it's completed, as well as an early copy of his 2005 disclosure. He said he was ``eager to fully respond to the questions that have been asked.''
Jefferson told reporters in New Orleans that he ``certainly did not sell my office.''
Prosecutors, in court papers that referred to Jefferson as ``Representative A,'' have alleged that the lawmaker asked a Kentucky businessman to make regular payments to a company he controlled. The businessman, Vernon Jackson, on May 3 pleaded guilty to bribing ``Representative A'' by paying him more than $400,000 to help win telecommunications deals in Africa.
``Over the past nine months, my family and I have had to endure the hell of a federal criminal investigation,'' Jefferson said. ``I have hoped that the government would come to understand that the actions under scrutiny were not illegal.''
The ethics questions facing the two Democrats may have helped dilute Republican concerns about scandals. Early this year, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and others promised a package of new ethics rules, such as a ban on travel by lawmakers financed by private groups. The Senate and House instead passed measures that mainly focused on greater disclosure of lobbyists' activities and rejected most efforts to curb lawmaker perks.
``The out party always uses whatever arrows it has in its quiver, so it isn't surprising that they would try to paint Republicans with the `culture of corruption' tag,'' said Karlyn Bowman, a public-opinion analyst at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, a policy research group.
``The problem for them is that the public believes -- and poll after poll shows this -- that both parties have serious corruption issues,'' Bowman said.
To contact the reporters on this story:Kristin Jensen in Washington [email protected];Laura Litvan in Washington [email protected] Updated: May 16, 2006 00:06 EDT