Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
|David Brock, Anne Weismann, Naomi Seligman|
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization headed by David Brock that describes itself as "dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials – regardless of party affiliation – who sacrifice the common good to special interests." CREW was founded in part to represent a counter-weight to conservative watchdog groups such as Judicial Watch.
One of its most visible projects is "CREW's Most Corrupt", an annual report of whom CREW determines are Washington's most corrupt politicians. According to its website, CREW advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach. CREW employs the law as a tool to force officials to act ethically and lawfully and to bring unethical conduct to the public’s attention through: litigation, Freedom of Information Act requests, Congressional ethics complaints, Internal Revenue Service complaints, Federal Election Commission complaints, and requests for investigation with government agencies.
A 2008 Roll Call article noted that the CREW mission statement had changed several times since 2005 to de-emphasize its focus on litigation. It dropped 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", and now instead states that CREW "advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach."
A series of reports created by examining campaign spending and earmark data, which details how members of congress use their position to benefit themselves and their families. The 2012 report includes 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 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.
"CREW’s Most Corrupt"
CREW has published seven annual reports since 2005 of the politicians that CREW identifies as the most corrupt members of Congress. The 2005 report included 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats; the 2006 report included 17 Republicans and 3 Democrats; the 2007 report included 18 Republicans and 4 Democrats; the 2008 report included 17 Republicans and 7 Democrats; the 2009 report included 7 Republicans and 8 Democrats; the 2010 report included 16 Republicans and 10 Democrats; the 2011 report included 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats. The 2012 report included 13 Republicans and 7 Democrats. The 2012 election cycle saw 11 of the 32 lawmakers included in the last two reports either defeated or retiring.
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."
Board of Directors
Melanie Sloan serves as CREW's original executive director. In August 2014 Media Matters for America founder David Brock was elected chairman of CREW's board, and Sloan announced her intention to resign as executive director when Brock finds a replacement. Prior to 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 to board president of CREW after laying out a broad plan to turn the organization into a more muscular and likely partisan organization, according to unnamed sources. While CREW operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit prohibited from engaging in partisan activity, Brock intends to create a more politically oriented arm registered under section 501(c)4, and also form a new overtly partisan watchdog group called The American Democracy Legal Fund registered under section 527, allowing it to engage in direct political activity. Along with Brock's election, consultant David Mercer and investor Wayne Jordan also joined CREW's board of directors. When asked 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."
Allegations of partisanship and criticism
"We are progressive", said Naomi Seligman, the group's deputy director... "We do work within a larger progressive infrastructure." Seligman 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 Republican Sen. Bill Frist, then Senate Majority Leader). A report by McClatchy News Service described 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, "Since its founding in 2003, CREW has worked through legal and regulatory channels to press allegations of impropriety almost exclusively against Republicans."
In 2010 Politico's Ben Smith 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."
CREW called for the resignations of U.S. House Democrats Charlie Rangel and Anthony Weiner. In June 2011, CREW criticized the Justice Department's prosecution of Democratic politician John Edwards for allegedly receiving and hiding illegal campaign contributions. Executive director Melanie Sloan said that the prosecutor's case was "remarkably weak ... no court has ever interpreted the definition of campaign contribution this broadly."
The Washington Post has variously described CREW as a "liberal watchdog group", "nonprofit watchdog group", "advocacy group", and "nonpartisan watchdog group". The New York Times, USA TODAY, and Roll Call have also referred to CREW as "liberal", with Roll Call also describing CREW as "controversial".
The journal Broadcasting & Cable described CREW's chief legal counsel as "a Democrat-recommended witness and so the closest to an [Obama] administration defender". In April 2011, CREW was described as "left-leaning" by both the Chicago Tribune and Lexington Herald-Leader, and The Daily Caller columnists called CREW "a Democrat-leaning group" without a "contributor base to play watchdog over the Obama administration."
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 Senator Mary Landrieu, 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 also suggested the Roll Call reporter had been prompted by a conversation with Democratic Senator Mary 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 purportedly withdrawn because these groups are more apt to work outside the Democratic Party's infrastructure.
- "Ethics watchdog drops its non-partisan veneer". USA Today. August 14, 2014.
- "About CREW". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 2008. Retrieved 2012-05-16.
- The Most Feared Woman on Capitol Hill?;Ms. Magazine; Linda Burstyn; Winter 2007.
- 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.
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