A federal grand jury in Indianapolis indicted eight people yesterday on charges of vote-buying for Democratic candidates in 1982 and 1984 elections, including the bitterly contested 1984 congressional election that caused an uproar in the House after the Democratic candidate was declared the winner by a four-vote margin.
The 22-count indictment reopened the wounds of last year's bruising battle in the House that resulted in the seating of Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.) rather than his Republican opponent, Richard D. McIntyre, for Indiana's 8th Congressional District.
The indictment made no allegations against McCloskey or his campaign staff, but GOP officials, including Republican National Committee Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Indiana Chairman Gordon Durnil and Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.), ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee, called on McCloskey to vacate the seat until the eight defendants are tried.
McCloskey, however, said he had no intention of resigning, nor did McIntyre call on him to do so. The two men -- who face a rematch on Nov. 4 -- said they were trying to forget the 1984 election and concentrate on their current contest.
"I doubt many people in my district want me to resign except the most extreme, partisan Republicans," McCloskey said. "If the people of my district do not want me, they have 120 short days to show me."
McIntyre said the alleged vote-buying scheme could have made "a tremendous difference" in the razor-thin 1984 outcome but added, "We're just working hard on November."
The indictment alleges 18 instances of vote-buying in 1984 in Crawford County, a Democratic bastion in southern Indiana. Part of the county is in McCloskey's district and part is in the 9th Congressional District represented by Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.).
In a telephone interview, John D. Tinder, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Indiana, said more than two-thirds of the voting precincts allegedly involved in the case are in the 8th district, enough to affect the four-vote margin by which a formal House recount declared McCloskey the winner. But Tinder said that even if the charges of vote fraud are proven in court the outcome would have no legal impact on the House's certification of McCloskey's 1984 victory.
According to Tinder, the eight defendants conspired to pay voters between $15 and $35 each to vote a "straight Democratic ticket" in the 1982 and 1984 general elections, and to vote for the party-endorsed slate in the 1982 Democratic primary. He said "several thousand dollars" was involved in the alleged scheme, but that not all the money has been traced. The investigation is continuing, Tinder said.
According to the indictment, the money was raised by "soliciting funds from candidates, fund-raisers and loans from individuals or financial institutions." One of those charged, Elvin (Mutt) House, won election as a Crawford County commissioner in November 1984 by 558 votes over his Republican opponent, according to county voting records.
Other defendants in the case include a former Democratic county commissioner, a Crawford County highway superintendent and a Democratic precinct committeeman.
Tinder said the details of the alleged scheme and the motivations of the defendants would be disclosed in the trial, but noted that "we don't allege a particular race was focused on" in any of the elections. He said a trial date had not been set, but that generally trials in that district were held 60 to 90 days after indictment.
The 1984 McCloskey-McIntyre race was one of the closest congressional elections in history. On Election Day, McCloskey appeared to have won by 72 votes, but a few days later discovery of an accounting error gave McIntyre a 34-vote edge. He was then certified the winner by Indiana's secretary of state, a Republican.
A state recount enlarged McIntyre's margin, but the Democratic-controlled House refused to seat him and established a bipartisan three-member task force to conduct its own recount, setting off a bitter dispute that dominated the first few months of the 99th Congress. When the task force declared McCloskey the winner by a four-vote margin and he was sworn in, Republicans protested by attempting to delay and disrupt House proceedings.
Some of the tone of that fight resurfaced yesterday in the comments of GOP lawmakers. "We said the Democrats would go to any lengths to steal this election and today's indictments prove it," said Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Frenzel emphasized there was no information linking McCloskey to the alleged vote-buying scheme but called on him to stop voting in the House until the case is resolved.
"These allegations cast a second shadow on the presence of Frank McCloskey in the House," Frenzel said. "Republicans to a person believe he was not elected correctly. The people elected McIntyre."
Democrats dismissed these demands. "That's nonsense," said Mark Johnson, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The 1984 election is over, and everyone except perhaps the House Republicans knows that."
McCloskey, who said he did not personally know any of the people who were charged, said he did not expect the indictments to affect his November rematch with McIntyre. He said voters in the congressional district "are tired of hearing about the recount and the controversy."
McIntyre, who recently edged McCloskey in a goat-milking contest during a joint campaign appearance, was scheduled to appear again with his opponent last night.