Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
|Founder||Norman L. Eisen, Melanie Sloan|
|Norman L. Eisen, Chair
Noah Bookbinder, Executive Director
Jennifer Ahearn, Policy Counsel
Matt Corley, Research Director
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) U.S. government ethics and accountability watchdog organization. CREW, which is nonpartisan and progressive, was founded in part to serve as a counter-weight to conservative watchdog groups such as Judicial Watch.
One of its projects is "CREW's Most Corrupt Members of Congress", an annual report in which CREW lists the people it considers to be the Federal government of the United States's most corrupt politicians, which has since 2005 featured 25 Democrats and 63 Republicans. Its activities include litigation, FOIA requests, congressional ethics complaints, Internal Revenue Service complaints, Federal Election Commission complaints, and requests for investigation with government agencies.
History and mission
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington was co-founded in 2003 by Norman L. Eisen and Melanie Sloan in part as a counter-weight to conservative watchdog groups such as Judicial Watch. Sloan initially ran the fledgling organization by herself; by 2007, CREW had 13 staff members.
The organization's website says it is "dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests." The CREW mission statement has changed several times between 2005 and 2008 to de-emphasize its focus on personal litigation, dropping language that once read that CREW "differs from other good government groups in that it sues offending politicians directly" and that it "aims to counterbalance the conservative legal watchdog groups that made such a strong impact over the past decade". It added that CREW "advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach."
In 2015, the organization's mission states, "CREW uses high-impact legal actions to target government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests."
- CREW’s Most Corrupt list
Each year since 2005, CREW has published its "Most Corrupt Members of Congress” report. The 2012 election cycle saw 11 of the 32 lawmakers included in the last two reports either defeated or retiring. As of 2014, the list had included 88 individuals, including 63 Republicans and 25 Democrats.
- Family Affair report
In 2012, CREW released a report entitled Family Affair, which examined how members of Congress had used their positions to benefit themselves and their families. The report included 248 members of the United States House of Representatives, 105 Democrats and 143 Republicans, "about equal to their parties' proportional makeup in the House." Common practices, which do not appear to violate laws or House ethics rules but still raise ethical questions include: paying family for congressional office and campaign work, collecting reimbursements from official US House and campaign budgets, earmarking to projects connected with family members, and charging interest on personal loans given to their campaigns.
- FOIA requests for emails
In 2012, after learning that former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson had used an alias email account to conduct government business, CREW submitted an FOIA request for "records sufficient to show the number of email accounts of or associated with Secretary Hilary Rodham Clinton, and the extent to which those email accounts are identifiable as those of or associated with Secretary Clinton." The State Department's FOIA office says the request was closed in May 2013, but had no further information. CREW says they have not received any further information on the request since the State Department acknowledged receiving it.
- Criticism of Continuing Appropriations Resolution
CREW raised questions about some of the content of the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014 (H.J.Res 59; 113th Congress). One controversial provision of the bill was section 134, which stated that "notwithstanding any other provision of this joint resolution, there is appropriated for payment to Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, widow of Frank R. Lautenberg, late a Senator from New Jersey, $174,000." CREW protested the inclusion of this in the bill, since the senator's assets in 2011 were over $57 million. The group questioned why this "death gratuity" was considered a "top funding priority".
- Emoluments Clause
A legal team representing CREW (including Laurence H. Tribe, Norman L. Eisen, Erwin Chemerinsky, Richard Painter, and Zephyr Teachout) announced their intention to file a lawsuit in federal court in New York on January 23, 2017 on the grounds that President Donald Trump's business interests violate a provision in the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution by receiving payments from foreign government entities. The suit will ask the court to order Trump to stop receiving payments from foreign government via his hotels, golf courses, rentals and leased properties.
Norman L. Eisen, an attorney specializing in fraud, and eventual (in 2009) Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform in the White House, co-founded CREW in 2003. He became known for his stringent ethics and anti-corruption efforts, and for limiting registered lobbyists from taking positions in the administration.
Melanie Sloan served as CREW's first executive director. In August 2014 former Republican activist and current Democratic activist David Brock was elected chairman of CREW's board, and Sloan announced her intention to resign as executive director, pending Brock's hiring of a new executive director. Prior to co-founding CREW in 2003, Sloan served as one of more than 300 Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the District of Columbia from 1998 to 2003 after having worked for congressional Democrats John Conyers, Charles Schumer, and Joseph Biden. Mark Penn, pollster for Bill Gates, Tony Blair, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, also became a director and vice president at CREW.
Brock was elected as CREW's board president after laying out a broad plan to turn the organization into a more muscular organization. Along with Brock's election, consultant David Mercer and investor Wayne Jordan joined CREW's board of directors.
Noah Bookbinder, a former Justice Department prosecutor and Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee, was named Executive Director and assigned to head up CREW in March, 2015.
Allegations of partisanship
CREW operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit prohibited from engaging in partisan activity. U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) charged that CREW was "maliciously false" and "partisan hacks" in calling him corrupt in 2005. The Billings Gazette reported that CREW defended itself:
"We are progressive", said Naomi Seligman, the group's deputy director... "We do work within a larger progressive infrastructure." She suggested her group is the progressive counterweight to Judicial Watch, a group from the right that calls itself "a non-profit, public interest law firm dedicated to fighting government corruption ... We've gone after a fair number of Democrats, even in this study", Seligman said, [and Burns] "should be answering the charges, not slinging charges."
In 2006, Congressional Quarterly reported, "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has taken aim almost exclusively at GOP members of Congress. Since its founding in 2003, it [helped] investigate 21 lawmakers, only one of them a Democrat" (Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, in a complaint that also targeted Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), then Senate Majority Leader). A report by McClatchy News Service referred to CREW as "a Democratic-leaning watchdog group". In 2007, Ms. Magazine quoted longtime Democratic pollster Celinda Lake as saying, "Corruption was a top issue in the  midterm elections, and CREW was critical to the Democrats' success. The fact that they were bipartisan and had created this dirty-dozen list of corrupt politicians really helped people process that these politicians were acting well outside the norm." In 2006, Time referred to the group as "the liberal watchdog group", and reported that "[S]ince its founding in 2003, CREW has worked through legal and regulatory channels to press allegations of impropriety almost exclusively against Republicans."
In 2010, Ben Smith of Politico described CREW's founding in 2003 as "one of a wave of new groups backed by liberal donors" and called CREW "a vehicle for assaults on largely – but not entirely – Republican targets". An Associated Press story in 2010, however, stated that CREW "has a history of targeting members of Congress representing different races, philosophies and both major parties."
The Washington Post has referred to CREW as a "nonpartisan watchdog group", while Fox News refers to them as "a liberal-funded watchdog group", and New York Daily News also describes them as "nonpartisan".
The journal Broadcasting & Cable described CREW's former chief legal counsel, Anne Weismann, as "a Democrat-recommended witness and so the closest to an administration defender". In April 2011, CREW was described as "left-leaning" by the Chicago Tribune and Lexington Herald-Leader.
When asked in 2014 if CREW would still continue pursuing complaints against Democrats, Brock responded, "No party has a monopoly on corruption and at this early juncture, we are not making categorical statements about anything that we will and won't do. Having said that, our experience has been that the vast amount of violations of the public trust can be found on the conservative side of the aisle."
Roll Call article
Roll Call reported in January 2008 that CREW files most of its complaints against members of Congress, and "all but a handful ... have targeted Republicans". The article stated that CREW had issued press releases against Democrats but usually had not filed complaints against them, with the exception of now former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), a conservative Democrat. CREW defended itself to Roll Call:
"CREW is a nonpartisan organization that targets unethical conduct", [Deputy Director Naomi] Seligman wrote... "Now that the Democrats are in power, they will have opportunities for corruption that were previously reserved to Republicans and it is likely we will see more Democratic corruption."
After the article was published, CREW stated that it was "baseless" and "omitted key facts". CREW suggested the Roll Call reporter had been prompted by a conversation with Senator Landrieu, the target of a recent CREW lawsuit at the time.
Roll Call reported that CREW doesn't disclose its donor list, and quoted former Deputy Director Naomi Seligman as saying that "donors play no role in CREW’s decisions as to the groups or politicians we target." Donors to CREW have included such groups as Democracy Alliance, Service Employees International Union, the Arca Foundation, and the Gill Foundation.
In January 2012, Democracy Alliance dropped a number of prominent organizations, including CREW, from their list of recommended organizations to receive donations. Support was withdrawn because these groups are more apt to work outside the Democratic Party's infrastructure.
- Campaign for Accountability
- Center for Effective Government
- Government Accountability Project
- Project On Government Oversight
- "Norman Eisen and Richard Painter to Lead CREW Board". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. December 7, 2016.
- "IRS 2013 Form 990" (PDF). GuideStar. Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
- Blumenthal, Paul (July 9, 2013). "Citizens United Lawyer Jim Bopp Hit With Tax Complaint From Watchdog Group". Huffington Post. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
- Goldberg, Michelle (November 25, 2014). "How David Brock Built an Empire to Put Hillary in the White House". The Nation. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
- Vogel, Kenneth (August 13, 2014). "David Brock expands empire". Politico. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
- "About CREW". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Retrieved May 16, 2012.
- Linda Burstyn (Winter 2007). "The Most Feared Woman on Capitol Hill?". MsMagazine.com. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
- Q&A Interview with Melanie Sloan, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); CSPAN Transcripts; May 13, 2009.
- Singer, Paul (2008-01-29). "Watchdog, Donors Share Common Foes". Roll Call. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
CREW has named Democratic Reps. John Murtha (Pa.), Alan Mollohan (W.Va.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.) to its "most corrupt" list, but never has released a separate ethics complaint against any of them.
- CREW Mission statement; CitizensForEthics.org; accessed December 15, 2015.
- Lipton, Eric (November 8, 2012). "Ethics in Play, Voters Oust Incumbents Under Scrutiny". The New York Times. Retrieved November 23, 2012.
- Lipton, Eric (March 22, 2012). "Study Shows How House Members and Families Reap Benefits". The New York Times. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
- O'Keefe, Ed (March 22, 2012). "Study: Ron Paul's House seat enriches his family". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
- Bingham, Amy (March 22, 2012). "House Members Give Their Families Millions in Campaign Cash". ABC News. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
- FOIA Request. CREW. December 6, 2012.
- FOIA Request for Hillary Clinton's Email Address Went Missing. The Washington Free Beacon. March 6, 2015.
- How Did The State Department Respond To Open Records Requests For Hillary’s Emails?. Daily Caller. March 3, 2015.
- "David Brock's CREW: A Watchdog That Doesn't Bite". Daily Caller, January 22, 2016.
- Kasperowicz, Pete (September 20, 2013). "House spending bill includes $174,000 payment to deceased senator's widow". The Hill. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
- Eric Lipton and Adam Liptak (January 22, 2017), Foreign Payments to Trump Firms Violate Constitution, Suit Will Claim, Washington, DC, retrieved January 22, 2017
- Saslow, Eli (March 13, 2009). "When White House Has Queries About Ethics Rules, Adviser Norm Eisen Answers the Call". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
- "CREW Crew". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
- Gerth, Jeff; Van Natta, Jr., Don (2007). Her way: the hopes and ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (1st ed.). New York: Little, Brown and Co. p. 267. ISBN 978-0-316-01742-8. Retrieved 2013-07-19.
- "Ethics watchdog drops its non-partisan veneer". USA Today. August 14, 2014.
- CREW Names Noah Bookbinder Executive Director; CREW Press release; February 26, 2015
- Johnson, Charles S. (2005-10-02). "Burns calls 'corrupt' label from group 'maliciously false'". Billings Gazette. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
- Bolton, Alexander (March 14, 2006). "Watchdog's tax status, politics are questioned". The Hill.
- Congressional Quarterly Weekly, volume 65, p. 107
- Greg Gordon,"Congressman in tight race for re-election comes under federal investigation", mcclatchydc.com, October 13, 2006.
- Karen Tumulty (October 23, 2006). "The Hill Monitor". Time Magazine: 58.
- Ben Smith, "Staffing up for Congressional investigations", Politico.com, November 18, 2010.
- McGill, Kevin (September 22, 2010). "Watchdog group seeks Senate probe of Vitter". Sulphur Daily News. Associated Press. Retrieved June 16, 2011.
- Bacon, Jr., Perry (2010-08-14). "Rep. Maxine Waters blasts ethics panel and media, defends links to OneUnited". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
- "Watchdog group files lawsuit against Trump over foreign payments". Fox News Channel. January 23, 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
- President Trump's deep ties to his business empire remain, trust documents show; New York Daily News; Chris Sommerfeldt; February 4, 2017
- online "House Republicans Hammer White House on Transparency", Broadcasting & Cable magazine, May 3, 2011.
- CREW archives; accessed November 11, 2015.
- Arca Foundation
- Daniels, Alex (2009-09-24). "Inquiry is sought in Ross deal". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- VandeHei, Jim (2006-07-17). "A New Alliance Of Democrats Spreads Funding: But Some in Party Bristle At Secrecy and Liberal Tilt". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-04-04.
- Grim, Ryan (2012-02-28). "Liberal Donor Network Dumps Progressive Organizations". Huffington Post.
- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, official site
- CREW's Most Corrupt, list of Members of Congress
- Family Affair report detailing nepotism in Congress
- "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Internal Revenue Service filings". ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer.