Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization 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."[1] 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 by engaging in research, litigation and media outreach, utilizing litigation, Freedom of Information Act requests, Congressional ethics complaints, Internal Revenue Service complaints, Federal Election Commission complaints, and requests for investigation with government agencies.[1]

CREW has been described by major media organizations, including the Washington Post and New York Times, as a liberal watchdog group and by others as Democratic-leaning, left-leaning and progressive.



Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington was founded in 2003 to expose, deter and litigate legal and ethical wrongdoing by members of Congress. The idea for the organization originated in part with co-founder Norman Eisen, as a counter-weight to conservative watchdog groups like Judicial Watch.[2][3]


CREW publishes several reports concerning political topics and politicians according to its ideology. As of September 2011, the following possibly recurring reports, among other topical reports, were listed on their website:

  • CREW’s Most Corrupt 2011:: is the most recent edition of CREW's flagship annual report concerning corruption in congress.
  • Crooked Candidates 2010: Identified the candidates that CREW alleged were the most corrupt for the 2010 congressional elections.
  • CREW’s Most Corrupt 2010: Unfinished Business a review of previous reports concerning corruption in congress.
  • Under Investigation: CREW's list of politicians that may be under investigation by various federal agencies.
  • The Pork Parade: Details members of congress allegedly taking advantage of earmarks for financial and political gain.

"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;[4] the 2006 report included 17 Republicans and 3 Democrats;[5] the 2007 report included 18 Republicans and 4 Democrats;[6]; the 2008 report included 17 Republicans and 7 Democrats;[7] the 2009 report included 7 Republicans and 8 Democrats;[8] the 2010 report included 16 Republicans and 10 Democrats;[9] the 2011 report included 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats.[10]

"Crooked Candidates 2010"

In 2010, CREW published a "Crooked Candidates" list that included Roy Blunt (R-MO - elected), Charlie Crist (I-FL - defeated), Jeff Denham (R-CA - elected), Alvin Greene (D-SC - defeated), Jeff Greene (D-FL - defeated), Timothy Griffin (R-AR - elected), J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ - defeated), Ed Martin (R-MO - defeated), Kendrick Meek (D-FL - defeated), Christine O'Donnell (R-DE - defeated), Dino Rossi (R-WA - defeated), Marco Rubio (R-FL - elected), James Traficant (I-OH - defeated), and Allen West (R-FL - elected).[11] Of the 14 candidates listed as most corrupt, five were elected and nine were defeated.

"CREW’s Most Corrupt 2010: Unfinished Business"

CREW currently lists serving politicians as investigation targets on their annual lists of the most corrupt congressmen.

According to CREW's report; of the 26 ongoing investigations, sixteen are Republicans (61%) and ten are Democrats (39%), while six are Senators with the remainder serving as Representatives.

Three congressmen are currently out of office since the 2010 report was published; Sen. Burris (D-IL) chose not to run again, Rep. Mollohan (D-WV) was defeated and Sen. Ensign (R-NV) resigned. One congressman, Rep. Rangel (D-NY) was censured by the House but still serves. [12]

CREW uses the following general categories to label its allegations and they are defined below:

  1. "Campaign finance violations" concern usage of campaign funds which is discussed in Campaign finance in the United States.
  2. "Acceptance of a bribe" is described in Bribery.
  3. "Enrichment of self, family or friends" is explained in Nepotism.
  4. "Honest services fraud" is defined as a scheme to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services and is further examined in Honest services fraud.
  5. "Illegal gratuity" is another term for bribery.
  6. "Improper conduct" is a general term that implies procedural, ethical or legal lapses.
  7. "Solicitation of gifts" is another general term that implies bribery.
  8. "Travel violations" may include procedural failures as well as ethical lapses and possible bribery.
  9. "Misuse of Congressional staff" implies use of staff personnel whose salaries are paid with federal funds for the congressman's personal or campaign business.
  10. "Improper use of appropriated funds" suggests using federal funds for personal or campaign purposes.


Melanie Sloan serves as CREW's founding and current executive director. Prior to founding CREW in 2003, she 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.[12]


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".[13] 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)[14].[15] A report by McClatchy News Service described CREW as "a Democratic-leaning watchdog group".[16] In 2007, Ms. Magazine quoted longtime Democratic pollster Celinda Lake as saying, "Corruption was a top issue in the [2006] 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."[17] In 2006, Time magazine 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."[18] 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."[19]

Then-U. S. Senator Hillary Clinton and her associates played a role in the early stages of CREW's history. A key staffer to Clinton, Jodi Sakol, attended brainstorming sessions that established CREW.[20] Sakol made Clinton aware of CREW's need for "Democratic progressive money." Mark Penn, Clinton's pollster and chief strategist, became a director and vice president at CREW.

U.S. Senator Conrad Burns of Montana charged that CREW was "maliciously false" and "partisan hacks" in calling him corrupt in 2005. The Billings Gazette reported that CREW defended itself:[21]

"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."

CREW has called for the resignation of U. S. House Democrats Charlie Rangel[22] and Anthony Weiner.[23] 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," and that "no court has ever interpreted the definition of campaign contribution this broadly."[24]

The Washington Post has variously described CREW as a "liberal watchdog group",[25] "nonprofit watchdog group",[26] "advocacy group",[27] and "nonpartisan watchdog group".[28] 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".[29] As recently as April 2011, CREW was described as "left-leaning" by both the Chicago Tribune and Lexington Herald-Leader,[30][31] and The Daily Caller columnists called CREW "a Democrat-leaning group" without a "contributor base to play watchdog over the Obama administration."[32][33]

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.[34] 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.[35]

Roll Call reported that CREW investigated "groups and individuals who are the foes of CREW's donors" as well as a political opponent of one of CREW's board directors, and that CREW refused to disclose its donor list.[34] Donors to CREW include such liberal groups as George Soros' Open Society Institute, Democracy Alliance, Service Employees International Union, the Arca Foundation, and the Gill Foundation.[34][36][37] The Roll Call article also stated that the CREW mission statement had changed since 2005, when it 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."

Public perception

In November 2010, Republican U. S. Senator Jim Inhofe (OK) called CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan a "great American" for her organization's work on earmark reform.[38]

See also


  1. ^ a b "About CREW". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-26. 
  2. ^ The Most Feared Woman on Capitol Hill?;Ms. Magazine; Linda Burstyn; Winter 2007
  3. ^ Q&A Interview with Melanie Sloan, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); CSPAN Transcripts; May 13, 2009
  4. ^ "Ethically Challenged?". Roll Call. 27 September 2005. 
  5. ^ O'Brien, Tim (28 September 2006). "Sweeney official admits `error'". The Times Union. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Warner, Bob (19 September 2007). "Murtha is on list of 'corrupt'". The Philadelphia Daily News. 
  7. ^ "The Buzz". Sacramento Bee. 12 September 2008. 
  8. ^ Spillman, Benjamin (16 September 2009). "Watchdog group adds Ensign to list". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  9. ^ "Group takes bipartisan slap at La. senators". The Associated Press State & Local Wire. 13 October 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Boyle, Matthew (20 September 2011). "CREW names ‘most corrupt members of Congress,’ critics raise questions". The Daily Caller. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b "The Most Corrupt Members of Congress". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Retrieved 2011-06-11. 
  13. ^ "Staffing up for Congressional investigations" by Ben Smith, Politico, November 18, 2010, Online
  14. ^ Bolton, Alexander (14 March 2006). "Watchdog's tax status, politics are questioned". The Hill. 
  15. ^ Congressional Quarterly Weekly, volume 65, page 107
  16. ^ Congressman in tight race for re-election comes under federal investigation" by Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers, October 13, 2006, [ Online]
  17. ^ "The Most Feared Woman on Capitol Hill?" by Linda Burstyn, Ms. Magazine, Winter 2007, Online
  18. ^ "The Hill Monitor" by Karen Tumulty, Time magazine, October 23, 2006, page 58, Online
  19. ^ McGill, Kevin (22 September 2010). "Watchdog group seeks Senate probe of Vitter". Sulphur Daily News (The Associated Press). Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  20. ^ Gerth, Jeff; Jr, Don Van Natta, (2007). Her way : the hopes and ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (1st ed. ed.). New York: Little, Brown and Co.. pp. 267. ISBN 978-0-316-01742-8. 
  21. ^ Johnson, Charles S. (2005-10-02). "Burns calls 'corrupt' label from group 'maliciously false'". Billings Gazette. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  22. ^ "CREW: Rep. Rangel Must Resign". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 16 November 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  23. ^ "CREW: Rep. Weiner Must Resign". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Kane, Paul (2008-06-18). "Senators Deny Knowing Of Home Loan Favoritism". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  26. ^ Smith, R. Jeffrey (2010-07-31). "Rangel says colleagues who similarly sought donations were not punished". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-08-14. 
  27. ^ Eggen, Dan (2010-08-12). "Group sues Federal Election Commission, saying its slow response limits appeals". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-08-14. 
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ "House Republicans Hammer White House on Transparency", Broadcasting & Cable magazine, May 3, 2011, online, "Anne Weismann, chief counsel, for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Democrat-recommended witness and so the closest to an administration defender"
  30. ^ "For-profit colleges fighting short-seller Eisman", Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2011, Retrieved 2011-05-04, "Last month, left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and right-wing National Legal and Policy Center, called upon the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate..."
  31. ^ "Kentucky News Review" by Lu-Ann Farrar, Lexington Herald-Leader, April 29, 2011, Retrieved 2011-05-04, "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group, reports that Hal Rogers, Representative from Kentucky, helped funnel more than $236 million since 2000 to a network of nonprofits"
  32. ^ "IG’s oversight and clout shrink under Obama" by Neil Munro, The Daily Caller, April 20, 2011, Retrieved 2011-05-03
  33. ^ "Good-government watchdogs or lapdogs?" by Rick Manning, The Daily Caller, April 25, 2011, Retrieved 2011-05-03
  34. ^ a b c 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." 
  35. ^
  36. ^ Daniels, Alex (2009-09-24). "Inquiry is sought in Ross deal". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  37. ^ 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. 
  38. ^ "Congressional Record". Congressional Record. 15 November 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 

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