Public Citizen Unveils the “Ethics Hall of Shame” Identifying the Worst Ethics Offenders on Capitol Hill

Feb. 9, 2006

Public Citizen Unveils the “Ethics Hall of Shame” Identifying the Worst Ethics Offenders on Capitol Hill

Group Says Failure of Congressional Ethics Committees to Investigate Abramoff Scandal Shows Need for Obama’s Bill to Create an Independent Ethics Commission

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today unveiled the “Ethics Hall of Shame,” which profiles six current and former members of Congress who have admitted to or been tarnished by allegations of ethical misconduct, many in connection with the Jack Abramoff scandal and other special interests. Another two members of Congress were given dishonorable mention status.

The Ethics Hall of Shame includes Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who is under indictment for money laundering in Texas and is likely the focus of a Justice Department investigation for his ties to admitted felon and former super-lobbyist Abramoff.

Also inducted are:

  • Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), who pleaded guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.
  • Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who resigned as chairman of the House Administration Committee because of allegations that he used his office to help Abramoff and his clients.
  • Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), who went to bat for an Abramoff client and also short-circuited an investigation into the owner of a failed savings and loan, and whose aides attempted to scuttle an environmental regulation that could have hurt the Pombo family’s business.
  • Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), a major recipient of Abramoff’s largess, who went to extraordinary lengths to help an Abramoff client.
  • Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who is involved in an investigation of alleged extortion in a business investment scheme, and who was found to have stashed large amounts of cash in his freezer.

“The inductees to our Ethics Hall of Shame are those members of Congress who have abused the public trust either through outright illegal activities or the type of influence-peddling or sleazy behavior that has made this the most corrupt Congress in decades,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The ethics committees have most of these members, except Rep. Pombo, on their dockets but have done nothing to investigate these cases.”

Public Citizen gave dishonorable mention status to two current members of Congress:

  • Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible insider stock trading, and who went to extraordinary lengths to do an end run around legislative procedure to insert a provision into a new law that will insulate drug companies from some defective products lawsuits.
  • House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who slipped a favor for a major tobacco company into legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security but withdrew it after being caught.

The Ethics Hall of Shame also includes a detailed profile of Abramoff, the man at the center of the lobbying scandal that has affected numerous members of Congress.

To be included in Public Citizen’s Ethics Hall of Shame, a member of Congress must have committed illegal acts or engaged in conduct that is highly abusive of the public trust in the service of special interests. Those in the “dishonorable mention” category have been involved in activity that is ethically questionable or offensive to the public trust but which does not rise to the same level of wrongdoing as the inductees into the Hall of Shame. 

The Ethics Hall of Shame is available at Public Citizen’s Clean Up Washington Web site at www.CleanUpWashington.org.

“Many of the scandals sweeping over Capitol Hill are the product of loose ethics enforcement in Congress,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “No one is watching because the ethics committees too often act like lap dogs rather than watchdogs.”

Currently, the “ethics watchdogs” on Capitol Hill are nothing more than congressional ethics committees composed of and directed by members of Congress. Neither ethics committee has much of a track record for ethics enforcement. The committees were entirely unaware, or have even chosen to ignore, the current wave of ethics scandals surrounding Abramoff. The House ethics committee did not even bother meeting last year.

Given this deplorable situation, Public Citizen applauds Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for having the courage to challenge the business-as-usual environment on Capitol Hill and introduce far-reaching legislation that would establish a Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission, made up of people outside Congress but appointed by House and Senate leaders. The commission would be a much-needed independent and non-partisan watchdog charged with monitoring and enforcing compliance to the nation’s ethics and lobbying laws.

###