Washington, D.C. — Today, for the fourth time, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) named Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) one of the most corrupt members of Congress. A secret recording of one of Sen. McConnell’s campaign meetings revealed members of his Senate staff may have violated federal law and Senate ethics rules by conducting opposition research for his reelection campaign, earning the senator a place in CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress report, an annual, bipartisan look at Washington’s worst. Sen. McConnell was also included in CREW’s 2007, 2008, and 2009 reports.
“Sen. McConnell was quick to demand the FBI investigate those who secretly recorded his campaign meeting,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “To be thorough and fair, both the FBI and the Senate Ethics Committee should also investigate whether Sen. McConnell’s staff violated federal law.”
In February, Sen. McConnell held a meeting with campaign aides to discuss research against several potential Democratic opponents. A surreptitious recording of the meeting made by one or two members of the group Progress Kentucky was leaked to Mother Jones. In the recording, an unnamed “presenter” identifies the individuals who conducted the research as “Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, [and] a lot of LAs.”
Phil Maxson appears to have worked as a legislative aide in Sen. McConnell’s office since early 2011. “Josh” appears to refer to Sen. McConnell’s then-chief of staff, Josh Holmes, and “LA” is a common acronym for legislative assistants. At the time of the meeting, neither Mr. Maxson nor Mr. Holmes were listed as paid employees of Sen. McConnell’s principal campaign committee or leadership PAC, though Mr. Holmes has since left Sen. McConnell’s office to advise the campaign. Only “Jesse,” apparently referring to Sen. McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, was a campaign aide at the time of the meeting. It is a violation of federal law and Senate ethics rules for congressional staff to engage in campaign activity during office hours using Senate resources. In April, CREW asked the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate whether Sen. McConnell broke the law or Senate rules.
“Using official resources to conduct campaign work is tantamount to theft,” continued Sloan. “Senators are entitled to conduct opposition research, but they can’t use taxpayer dollars to do it.”
This is the ninth edition of CREW’s Most Corrupt report, an annual look at unethical conduct by members of Congress. This year’s list includes 6 Democrats and 11 Republicans; 10 are repeat offenders. Since 2005, CREW has named 88 members of Congress to the list, 45 of whom are no longer in office. Sen. McConnell is one of two members from Kentucky included in this year’s report.