Mark Twain said it best: “America is a nation without a distinct criminal class…with the possible exception of Congress.”
Using Twain’s observation as a guideline we took a long, hard look at the 535 men and woman who make up the House and Senate of the United States in 1999 and found a collection of rogues, con artists, scofflaws and bad check artists. We found Twain was right. Congress comprises a distinct criminal class.
It’s been over five years so we decided to take another look. Over the past several months, we have checked public records, past newspaper articles, civil court cases and criminal records of current members of the United States Congress. We talked with former associates and business partners who have been left out in the cold by people they thought were friends.
Using a scoring system developed by American Express, we ran credit checks on members of Congress and applied the financial and criminal record scoring procedures used by the Department of Defense to determine eligibility for a Top Secret security clearance.
All checks were made through public records. We did not break any laws or misrepresent ourselves to obtain any information. What we found, once again, was a disturbing group of elected officials who routinely avoid payment of debts, write bad checks, abuse their spouses, assault people and openly violate the law.
Some abusers from our last investigation are gone, but many remain. They include Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla), whose trail of bad debts, lies to Congress and misstatements to the Internal Revenue Service have spawned a number of investigations. Then there is Rep. James Moran (D-Va) whose wife charged him with abuse, who assaulted other members of Congress on the floor of the House and who is a former stockbroker whose judgment in trades is so bad he is broke from poor investments.
Since our last investigation, Democratic Congressman Jim Trafficant of Ohio has gone to prison for racketeering. Republican Jay Kim copped a plea for accepting a quarter million in illegal campaign contributions and House Republican Leader Tom DeLay is under grand jury investigation for fraud and money laundering.
Our research on the current Congress finds 111 members of the House and Senate who have run at least two businesses that went bankrupt, often leaving business partners and creditors holding the bag. Seventy-nine of them have credit reports so bad they can’t get an American Express card on their own (but as members of Congress, they get a government-issued Amex card without a credit check).
Sixty-four have personal and financial problems so serious they would be denied security clearances by the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy if they had to apply through normal channels (but, again, as members of Congress they get such clearances simply because they fooled enough people to get elected).
Thirty one members of the current Congress have been accused of spousal abuse in either criminal or civil proceedings. Thirty three have driving while intoxicated arrests on their driving records (34 if you include President George W. Bush, but he never served in Congress).
Twenty four are or have been defendants in various lawsuits, ranging from bad debts, disputes with business partners or other civil matters.
Nine members of Congress have been accused of writing bad checks, even after the scandal several years ago, which resulted in closure of the informal House bank that routinely allowed members to overdraw their accounts without penalty. Seventeen have drug-related arrests in their backgrounds, six for shoplifting, five for fraud, four for assault and one for criminal trespass.
These numbers vary little from what we found in 1999. Some are slightly higher, others slightly lower. What they show is that the legislative body charged with creating laws for other Americans to follow is overrun with abusers of not only the law but also the trust of the public that put them into office.