Proof of CREW's Bias

One of the most visible government ethics groups in Washington, DC is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The seemingly uncontroversial CREW advertises 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 spends its time filing government complaints and the occasional lawsuit against politicians and interest groups it deems to be corrupt. It claims this is all done in a nonpartisan manner.

The group’s history and activities tell a very different story.

  • By every measure CREW has attacked a significantly disproportionate number of Republicans and conservative organizations. CREW's tactics against the right have also been harsher, with the group waging legal battles against Republicans while issuing press releases against Democrats.

  • CREW ignored or underplayed corruption in Congress by Democrats. And when CREW did attack Democrats, it often came after substantial news coverage and law enforcement investigations. CREW rarely went after Democrats at all until its partisanship was questioned in the media.

  • CREW is funded by a Who's Who of left-wing donors. Many of CREW's biggest funders are left-leaning organizations, including the Open Society Institute, the Tides Foundation, and Democracy Alliance.

  • CREW's founders and staffers have been associated with other left-wing associations. CREW employees have previously worked for Media Matters for America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Alliance for Justice, and other aggressive left-wing advocacy groups.

  • CREW's first high-profile campaign was against Republican House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay. According to The Wall Street Journal, "[CREW Executive Director Melanie] Sloan estimates that her group issued more than one hundred press releases, legal filings and reports denouncing the former House majority leader."

  • CREW's partisanship led one attorney to question its tax status. CREW is classified as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, which prohibits it from supporting or opposing any political party. But CREW's history and actions clearly demonstrate that it disproportionately targets Republicans.

Findings

An analysis of CREW’s formal ethical and legal actions conclusively demonstrates the organization’s biased agenda. By every measure available, CREW’s claim that it is evenhanded in its treatment of Republicans and Democrats is not supported by its own paper trail. Specifically, an analysis of CREW’s activities in the following six areas demonstrates its bias. This is especially true when compared to non-partisan federal oversight and law enforcement agencies:

  • FEC SealFederal Election Commission: Between March 2004 and September 2010, CREW filed 29 complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), of which 76 percent targeted Republicans or conservative-leaning groups. Yet according to a select list of cases compiled by the FEC, only 40 percent of the civil penalties of $50,000 or more levied by the agency since 1980 were against Republican politicians or Republican Party supporters.

    FEC Graph

    Source: Federal Election Commission cases in which the civil penalties are $50,000 or greater;1980 to present.

  • IRS Logo

    Internal Revenue Service: Between October 2003 and October 2010, CREW filed 17 complaints with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) asking for investigations of congressmen and other political organization. All of those complaints targeted Republicans or conservative nonprofit organizations. Yet between 2005 and 2010, 50 percent of political or ideological organizations whose 501(c)(3) charitable statuses were revoked by the IRS were conservative and 50 percent were liberal.

    IRS Graph

    Source: Internal Recent Revocations of 501(c)(3) Determination, January 2005 to present.

  • House of Representatives Seal

    United States House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct: Between March 2004 to July 2010, CREW filed 28 complaints or requests for action with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the House Ethics Committee. Of those, 75 percent targeted Republicans while only 18 percent were against Democrats. The rest targeted both Republicans and Democrats. Yet only 33 percent members of Congress disciplined by the Committee since 1967 were Republicans, while 67 percent were Democrats.

    House of Representatives Graph

    Source: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

  • Senate Seal

    Senate Ethics Committee: Between June 2003 and April 2010 CREW filed 23 complaints or requests for action with the Senate Ethics Committee. Of those, 83 percent targeted Republicans and a mere 4 percent targeted Democrats. The rest targeted both Republicans and Democrats. Yet since 1967 the Senate Ethics Committee has only formally expelled or censured 3 Democratic Senators and 2 Republican Senators.

    Senate Ethics Committee Graph

    Source: United States Senate; Expulsion and Censure.

  • Department of Justice Seal

    Lawsuits: Between September 2004 and August 2010, CREW filed 51 lawsuits; 75 percent of them were against Republicans or the Bush Administration. Only 18 percent targeted Democrats or the Obama Administration. The remaining targeted both Democrats and Republicans, or were nonpartisan.

    Justice Department Actions Graph

    Source: Analysis of CREW's lawsuits.

  • FBI Seal

    Law Enforcement: Between June 2003 and September 2010, CREW requested 67 investigations by the Department of Justice and other federal agencies and law enforcement officials. This also includes requests for disciplinary action by state bars. Of those, 66 percent were directed against Republicans. Only 10 percent targeted Democrats. The rest targeted both Republicans and Democrats, or were nonpartisan.

    Law Enforcement Actions Graph

    Source: Analysis of CREW's lawsuits.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan claims that her organization filed more complaints against Republicans because theirs was the majority party for many years, making them more prone to corruption. But when Republicans controlled Congress between 1995 and 2007, half of all members of Congress officially sanctioned for ethics violations and three of the four convicted of crimes were Democrats.

CREW's reports also indicate a bias towards left-wing causes.

In addition to its legal and procedural actions against specific members of Congress, CREW has also published a number of reports that allege corruption. But a review of these reports found several that were biased in favor of left-wing causes or individuals.

  • "Smoke Screen: How Bush Insiders Distorted-And Still Influence-America's Debate Over Climate Change." This report laments the fact that there is more support for action against man-made climate change in other countries, but "[h]ere in the United States, this public consensus is sorely lacking." CREW speculates that this is caused in part "by what the public was reading and hearing from the individuals who managed climate change policy in the Bush administration." The report goes on to detail how some former Bush environmental officials went on to work for lobbying or government relations firms and energy companies.

  • "Criminals and Scoundrels: The 25 Most Corrupt Officials of the Bush Administration." This report lists 25 Bush-era officials that CREW deems to be corrupt. The organization has never produced a similar report about the Obama Administration, a Democratic-controlled Congress, or any other left-wing institution.

  • "Crossing the Line: The Bush Administration's Efforts to Expand Its Powerful Reach." This report "details the Bush administration’s repeated constitutional overreaching and abuse of executive power and prerogative." And yet, even as liberals like Glenn Greenwald and Keith Olbermann criticized the Obama Administration for what they saw as abuses of executive power, CREW has yet to release a similar sweeping indictment against the Obama Administration.

  • "CREW's Worst Governors." This report is similar to CREW's Most Corrupt list for members of Congress, but instead targets governors. Nine out of 11 governors on the list are Republicans. This is despite the fact that the report was released in early 2010, when there were 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republicans.

  • "CREW's Most Embarrassing Reelected Members of Congress 2008." This report lists the ten members of Congress reelected in 2008 whom CREW believed were the most corrupt or dishonest. Seven of them are Republicans and only three are Democrats. This is despite the fact that in 2008, Democrats won 257 seats in the House of Representatives while Republicans only won 178. Democrats also won 58 Senate seats (not including the two independents who caucus with them) while Republicans only won 40.

It's a problem to be publicly critical of other people's conduct if you're engaging in that conduct yourself.

- Melanie Sloan on MSNBC