Rep. Alan Mollohan (D), the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, is suddenly facing major ethical problems of his own. The story of the federal investigation into Mollohan’s finances is big enough to have reached the front page of both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
1) This story will not be going away, if only because of Mollohan’s position. Mollohan has also worked closely with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on avoiding working with Republicans on ethics reform, instead hoping to use it as an issue against them.
2) Combined with the ethical and possibly legal problems for Democratic Representatives John Conyers (Mich.), William Jefferson (La.), and Cynthia McKinney (Ga.), Mollohan’s situation could undercut Democrats’ efforts to cast Republicans as the party of corruption. Mollohan received $23,000 from MZM, the same company whose lobbyist Mitchell Wade corrupted disgraced former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.). (Mollohan donated that money to charity after Cunningham’s fall from grace. )
3) Mollohan began the year with half the cash on hand of his opponent, State Del. Chris Wakim (R). Normally this would not be a problem. Although Wakim is the strongest candidate Republicans have put up against Mollohan in years, that really isn’t saying much. But with this added twist, Wakim can create a real race in this district, which President Bush carried in 2004 with 58 percent of the vote. Wakim has already seized the issue.
4) Mollohan, a moderate, is a powerful figure in the state’s Democratic Party, widely considered the most likely to run for Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D) seat when it becomes vacant. To take him out now would be a bonanza for the perennially weak state GOP.
5) There are two parts to Mollohan’s problems, one related to targeted earmarking, and the other to Mollohan’s reporting of his personal financial situation.
6) If Mollohan’s popularity begins with his name—his father represented the district for nine terms—it continues because of his ability over the years, as an appropriator, to direct earmarked money to projects in his impoverished district. Mollohan’s approach to earmarks has been unique. Unlike other members who spread the money far and wide, he has earmarked hundreds of millions in funds to a small, targeted group of non-profits run by associates and campaign contributors. One of the beneficiaries is his business partner, who is also a former staffer). Mollohan keeps a low profile in the state, showing up mainly to unveil pork projects. There is some question as to whether he benefited indirectly from the earmarks in a personal way.
7) The other issue, possibly related, pertains to Mollohan’s annual personal financial disclosures—forms that every member of Congress must fill out and make public. The allegation is that Mollohan hid assets and liabilities in several official filings. One example: In 1999, Mollohan and his cousin secured a $2.3 million loan using their interest in their housing corporation as collateral. The problem is that Mollohan, in his congressional financial disclosure forms, listed his 50 percent share in the housing corporation as being worth no more than $30,000.
8) Depending on the outcome of a federal investigation, Mollohan could face both ethics charges and criminal charges for filing false financial disclosure forms. There could be deeper issues as well. Mollohan’s sudden problems may explain why President Bush and Speaker Hastert have been spending time campaigning and raising money in what appears to be such a hopeless district. Mollohan was re-elected in 2004 with 68%. NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and, more importantly, Hastert, have called for Mollohan to step down from the Ethics Committee, and the influential Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call has editorialized to the same effect.
Sign up to get the rest of Robert Novak’s weekly political report by e-mail:
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter