On Sept. 20, 2010, right after Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell became the GOP’s U.S. senatorial nominee in Delaware, a political watchdog group filed two ethics complaints against her. Miss O’Donnell subsequently was dragged through the mud by the liberal press for weeks before the election, accompanied by red-hot rhetoric such as this from Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which filed the complaints:
“Christine O’Donnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook, she should be prosecuted. Ms. O’Donnell has spent years embezzling money from her campaign to cover her personal expenses … thieves belong in jail, not the United States Senate.”
On July 15, U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III sent a letter to Miss O’Donnell’s campaign attorney, Cleta Mitchell, informing her that “this office has closed its review and does not intend to pursue criminal charges at this time.”
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is still reviewing a similar CREW complaint against Miss O’Donnell. The FEC recently ended an investigation of whether Miss O’Donnell and the California-based Tea Party Express illegally coordinated campaign spending.
Miss O’ Donnell has taken more than her share of abuse from everybody from the liberal press to Republicans sore at her for knocking off liberal Rep. Mike Castle in the primary. Now she’s firing back. This week, she asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate CREW for engaging in political attacks and to revoke its tax-exempt status. “I’m doing this for all of us,” she told a gathering of conservatives in Washington last week.
Miss O’Donnell notes that “80 percent of CREW’s 2010 Corrupt Members of Congress list were Republicans” and that CREW “actually defended John Edwards and Anthony Weiner during their political scandals.”
Miss O’Donnell’s attorney, Richard Abbott, had alleged that CREW’s complaint was based on an affidavit from a former O’Donnell campaign worker that contained false information and that CREW did not properly vet it before filing the complaint.
“Although the purely political motives behind the submission to your office are not illegal, making false statements to the United States Attorneys’ office and/or FEC would violate federal law,” he wrote.
According to a soon-to-be-released Capital Research Center paper, “The Watchdog CREW: Good Government Group Confuses Ethics With Liberalism,” by CNS News investigative reporter Fred Lucas, CREW has an obviously liberal pedigree. Ms. Sloan previously worked in Congress for Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Delaware Democrat.
“Two groups affiliated with George Soros have been big contributors to CREW,” Mr. Lucas writes. “In a 2006 interview, Sloan revealed that the Open Society Institute, a grantmaker founded by Soros, contributed $100,000 to CREW. The Democracy Alliance, another Soros creation, helped launch CREW. The Washington Post reports that the Alliance’s financial ‘blessing effectively jump-started’ the organization.”
Mr. Lucas also notes that although CREW has demanded that the IRS force 501(c)(4) groups like Karl Rove’s conservative American Crossroads GPS to reveal the names of its donors, “CREW refuses to disclose the donors that support its $2.8 million budget. However, because foundations are required to disclose the recipients of their grants, we know that CREW has received grants from the Tides Foundation ($230,290 since 2002), Barbra Streisand Foundation ($10,000 in 2005), Arca Foundation ($250,000 since 2003), David Geffen Foundation ($5,000 in 2004), Open Society Institute ($250,000 in 2008), Carnegie Corp. of New York ($200,000 since 2007) and the Gill Foundation ($425,000 since 2006).”
Like the American Civil Liberties Union, CREW occasionally goes after Democrats, if only to maintain a facade of nonpartisanship. For instance, CREW targeted disgraced New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel and Louisiana Rep. William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, who hid $90,000 in his freezer. Its current list of “most corrupt” members of Congress includes 10 Democrats in addition to 15 Republicans, up from just three Democrats and 17 Republicans in 2006. But overall, most of CREW’s bullets are fired at conservatives and Republicans. As Mr. Lucas notes, perhaps CREW’s most accomplished hit was taking down former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, on corruption charges. Ms. Sloan said Mr. DeLay was her “top target,” according to Congressional Quarterly.
On June 14, CREW filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) against House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, for assigning funds to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced in February that his office would not defend DOMA against legal attacks filed by homosexual activist groups. This left it to the House itself to protect the law, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1996 and signed by President Clinton. Perhaps CREW should launch an inquiry into why Mr. Holder - and President Obama - are violating their oaths to defend the nation’s laws.
Instead, CREW went after Mr. Boehner, claiming that he had violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal officials from spending more funds than appropriated or incurring obligations to do so. CREW withdrew the complaint on July 12 after the Government Accountability Office found no violation. Want to bet on when CREW will go after Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Mr. Obama for spending trillions in unfunded mandates? Obamacare alone would give CREW plenty to work with.
In April 2010, CREW tried to vilify a group of Christian congressmen who shared a Capitol Hill townhouse. In a complaint to the House and Senate Ethics Committee, CREW said the monthly rent was below market value and that the owner, a Christian, was violating campaign law by making an illegal gift. Both Republicans and Democrats were among those who frequented the town house. News stories about the complaint noted darkly that Bible studies were being conducted on the premises.
Perhaps if some Buddhist incense had wafted out of one of the first-floor windows, CREW would have left them alone.
In 2008, CREW went after Sarah Palin over the Republican National Committee’s help in paying for a new campaign wardrobe for her and her family that she later donated to charity. In announcing the complaint to the FEC, Ms. Sloan demagogued to the hilt: “$150,000 could fund three Alaska teachers’ yearly salaries; library books for the Juneau, Alaska, School District for nearly two years; health care premiums for 31 working Americans or 12 families.”
Everyone tired of CREW’s bullying should root for Christine O’Donnell to succeed with her countercomplaint to the IRS. Perhaps CREW will then evolve into the nonpartisan organization that it always has claimed to be.
Robert Knight, who helped draft the Defense of Marriage Act, is a columnist for The Washington Times.