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The sickness called Potomac Fever

By Doug Thompson  Posted by Amanda Lang (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 3 pages)
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Does the heady atmosphere of Congress turn honest men and women into a criminal class? Or is elected office simply a magnet for those who lie, cheat and steal for a living?

Political scientists and Constitutional scholars say it could be a bit of both.

"Politics attracts the glib, the fast talker and the con artist," says George Harleigh, a retired political science professor who worked in the Nixon and Reagan administrations. "It's a natural place for those who think fast on their feet."

Congress has always had its share of rogues and scoundrels:

* Adam Clayton Powell, the fast-talking Harlem Congressman who was re-elected even after Congress expelled him in 1967. Powell had survived charges of income-tax evasion (with a hung jury) even before his first election to Congress.

* Wes Cooley, the Oregon Congressman who lied about serving in the Korean War, quit Congress under a cloud in 1996, and was later convicted of falsifying VA loan applications.


* California Congressman Walter Tucker, who quit Congress in 1996 just before his conviction for accepting $30,000 in bribes and sentenced to 27 months in the federal pen.

* Ohio Congressman Jim Traficant, the flamboyant former sheriff expelled from Congress and sent to jail for taking bribes, money laundering and racketeering. That didn't stop him for running for re-election from prison and he still received 15 percent of the vote.

* And the most recent, California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, sentenced to eight years in prison for taking bribes and evading taxes in what prosecutors say was one of the most flagrant cases of abuse of office in Congressional history.


Congressmen have gone to jail for child molestation, bribery, fraud, misuse of public funds and various crimes and misdemeanors. Some have resigned in disgrace: Wayne Hayes because he put his mistress on his payroll as a secretary (she couldn't type) or Wilbur Mills because he messed around with a stripper.

Yet Gary Studds of Massachusetts seduced a young male House page, defied the House when it censured him and was re-elected several times. Dan Crane of Illinois had sex with a female page, cried and begged forgiveness on the floor of the House and lost his next election.

Rep. Barney Frank, also of Massachusetts, is the most openly-gay member of Congress and shared his Washington townhouse with a male prostitute who ran a homosexual whorehouse out of the residence. But that didn't stop him from winning re-election easily or serving as the primary Democratic defender of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"Congressional corruption has no party, no ideology and no gender," says Constitutional Scholar Alan Baker. "It's bipartisan and soaked in history and tradition. It also often defies logic."

Sociologist Sandra Reeves believes public perception of widespread corruption among elected officials is one of the reasons for the widespread ambivalence over Bill Clinton's sex and money scandals or the many abuses of the Bush administration.

"If the public felt Congress was an honest institution, there might have been more outrage over the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal or the current questions surrounding the Bush administration," Reeves says. "But many people feel that the people investigating or questioning the President are just as dirty."

Harleigh agrees.

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Prior to indicting the whole kit and caboodle of o... by ardee D. on Monday, Mar 13, 2006 at 3:05:13 PM