Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, ex-White House chief of staff Karl Rove, and now, Mark Foley, the Florida congressman who resigned Friday as a seamy sex scandal broke around him.

What these controversial public figures have in common is that they all have found themselves in the bull’s-eye of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, legal advocates leading the charge from the liberal side of the spectrum against government officials who, in their view, do wrong.

Known as CREW, the 13-person non-profit has staked a spot in the front row of the Foley affair from the time it became public last week, when sexually suggestive and explicit Internet conversations between Foley and teenage boys burst forth.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said the group first got involved in July, when it received copies of e-mails from Foley to a teenager who had been a congressional page. She said they were given to her by a "third party" who got them from a Capitol Hill staffer.

Sloan, a former sex crimes prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, said the e-mails, though not overtly sexual, smacked of a ploy by a predator to cozy up to his sexual prey. She immediately forwarded the messages to the Washington FBI office, which reviewed them but took no action.

On Monday, Sloan held a news conference to announce CREW was calling on the Justice Department to probe the FBI’s failure to investigate. Sloan emphasized that it was not until the scandal had already erupted that her group got involved.

Even so, Republican partisans view the group as a thinly veiled Democratic attack dog, pointing to the masses of money CREW receives from liberal lights such as financier George Soros and entertainer Barbra Streisand. CREW does not reveal its funding sources because it is a private organization, Sloan said.

Republicans note, too, that CREW personnel include a former House and Senate Democratic staffer and lawyers who came from the liberal Alliance for Justice legal advocacy organization. Among those who have served on CREW’s board are former Clinton political pollster Mark Penn and Democratic donor Daniel Berger.

CREW makes no secret of its purpose and its leaning. It was formed as the "progressive" counterweight to such conservative legal advocacy groups as the National Legal and Policy Center and Judicial Watch. The latter was a driving force during the Clinton administration behind the Paula Jones sexual harassment allegations and suspicions that Clinton White House counsel Vince Foster, who investigators concluded had committed suicide, was really murdered in a cover-up.

But while Republican activists may consider CREW a partisan outfit in non-partisan disguise, its conservative counterparts respect it. Their political philosophies may differ, but CREW, Judicial Watch and the Legal and Policy Center each say they all share the goal of holding public officials accountable and uncovering ethical lapses _ whatever the party of the wrongdoers.

"Liberals can be right, too," said Tom Sitton, president of Judicial Watch.

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