With Ethics in Question, GOP Seeks Answers

By Shailagh Murray and Chris Cillizza
Sunday, April 23, 2006

The ethical furnace keeps getting hotter for House Republicans. Even Rep. Tom Reynolds, who heads the GOP reelection effort, is feeling some heat.

The four-term New Yorker is being targeted by a liberal watchdog group, New Yorkers for a Cleaner Congress, for taking "more lobbyist-funded luxury trips outside of western New York in the last three years than he has returned home to western New York." The group singles out jaunts to Pebble Beach, Calif., by Reynolds that have totaled $205,185 over five years.

Reynolds's office dismissed the criticism as politically motivated. "Just like the national Democratic Party, Jack Davis and his friends can't put forth any positive ideas, so instead they have to run negative ads and spread misinformation," said L.D. Platt, spokesman for Reynolds, referring to his boss's Democratic opponent.

Republicans are increasingly nervous about their ability to hold the House in November, and not only because of the sour national mood over the war in Iraq and rising gas prices. Increasingly, local media and political opponents are putting the ethics of GOP House candidates under a microscope.

A Youngstown newspaper found that Charles Blasdel, the GOP front-runner in an open-seat race in Ohio and a financial adviser by profession, has about $50,000 in delinquent business taxes. Rick O'Donnell, who is seeking an open seat in Colorado, has drawn fire from Denver newspapers for including Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen L. Johnson's title on a fundraising invitation -- a violation of the Hatch Act. The event drew oil and gas officials with business before the EPA.

Ten-term Pennsylvania Rep. Curt Weldon's close ties to lobbyists are getting a close look, while Rep. John Sweeney of New York has drawn flak for taking a ski trip to Utah with lobbyists.

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, which Reynolds leads, said the Duke Cunningham corruption case appears to have stirred a hornet's nest. "Anytime a member of Congress is going to jail, it's news," Forti said.

He noted that some Democrats are also under scrutiny. Among them are Rep. William Jefferson (La.), the subject of a federal bribery investigation; Rep. Cynthia McKinney (Ga.), accused of striking a Capitol police officer; and Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the House ethics panel, who stepped down from his post Friday amid allegations of improper financial disclosure.

Lieberman Takes Challenge Seriously

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is getting serious about his primary challenge from wealthy businessman Ned Lamont.

Last week, Lieberman launched his first media campaign in more than a decade with two 60-second ads that confront his controversial and continuing support for the war in Iraq.

"I already know that some of you feel passionately against my position on Iraq," Lieberman says in one ad. "I hope we can still have a dialogue and find common ground on all the issues where we do agree."

Both ads, which were produced by media consultant Carter Eskew, seek to put Lieberman's support for the war into a broader context, pointing out that he has fought against the Republican-backed Medicare and energy bills, and is a supporter of abortion rights. "You may not always agree with him, but you can depend on his integrity, his compassion and his willingness to listen and hear all sides," the ad's narrator says of Lieberman.

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