Camden County Congressman Rob Andrews is having a bad couple of months. In late August, the House Ethics committee announced it was extending its investigation into Andrews campaign funds. In September, he was named one of the most corrupt members of Congress. And last night the congressman got the full 60 Minutes treatment.
The powerful CBS news magazine show asked for an interview with the veteran democratic Congressman. When he didn’t respond, correspondent Steve Kroft showed up at a committee hearing and waited in the hallway with a camera.
Kroft asked Andrews about $16,000 the Congressman spent to fly his family to Scotland to attend the wedding of a friend, who he was allegedly thinking of hiring.
Andrews told Kroft, “I followed the rules, met the standards” and then said he couldn’t say anything more because the Ethics Committee is conducting an investigation and “my obligation is not to talk about a pending matter.” When Kroft told the Congressman that he had checked with the Ethics Committee and they were fine with him answering questions, Andrews passed anyway, explaining that that is not his understanding of the rule.
The focus of the 60 Minutes report is a loophole in campaign fundraising that allows House representatives to take money from donors looking for influence and spend it on themselves and, in Andrews's case, his family.
There are strict rules that prevent Congressman from using money that is donated to their campaign fund for anything but a campaign. But Andrews used money from his Leadership Political Action Committees. The PACS came into existence after the strict campaign rules were enacted, so they are exempt. Steve Kroft described the PACs as “slush funds.” Almost every member of the House uses a leadership PAC to pay expenses and live a better lifestyle. The real question is what they do for that money.
When Kroft asked Andrews about the legal slush funds, he answered, “I think we should take a look at what they can and can’t be used for. I’d be in favor of that.” In his report, Kroft pointed out that every representative says something to that effect, and yet nothing is ever done.
Andrews's family trip across the pond is not the only potential ethical violation the Ethics Committee is investigating. Andrews's campaign shelled out $10,000 for a celebration of his 20th anniversary in Congress, which doubled as his daughter’s high-school graduation party. And Andrew’s campaign has donated more than $100,000 to The Walnut Street Theater, where his daughter performs as an actress.
It's for those and other questionable uses of campaign funds that Citizen’s for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Rob Andrews one of the Congress's most corrupt members.
So what will happen to him? Probably nothing. It is difficult for members to discipline one of their own for something they all do. If they weren’t able to throw Charlie Rangel out of Congress, nobody’s getting the boot.
There is little to no chance that Andrews will lose the seat he has held since 1990 in the 2014 midterm election. In 2012, he won the seat with over 68 percent of the vote, and that was an off year.
There is also the important point that Andrews may have technically not done anything illegal, or even unethical by Congress’s low standards. The rules have been fixed to assure the legality. As they said in the 60 Minutes report, the real scandal in Washington isn’t what’s illegal, but what’s legal.