A few years ago, then-House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) promised that if Republicans were to become the majority, they would need to have a “zero tolerance” policy for ethical violations. More recently, Donald Trump pledged that if elected to the presidency, he would “drain the swamp.”
But with news this week that former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is seeking to replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and that former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) will challenge Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) in a 2020 primary, it appears that scandal is no longer an automatic disqualification for GOP candidates.
Here are just 17 of the Republicans currently hoping to return to Congress — or win a seat for the first time — who have checkered pasts:
- Gavin Clarkson
Clarkson was a Trump administration appointee in the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs until 2018. He resigned amid questions about his role in a failed tribal loan. An Inspector General later found he had engaged in “disturbing” conduct that left employees “in shock.” He denied any wrongdoing and, in April, announced he would run for Senate in 2020.
- Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY)
Collins was indicted last year for insider trading. He allegedly made illegal stock trades by phone white attending a Congressional Picnic at the White House, though he denies any wrongdoing and is currently awaiting trial. He is currently serving in the House and recently loaned his campaign $500,000 for a possible 2020 re-election bid.
- Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Gaetz made national headlines earlier this year when he tried to intimidate a congressional witness on Twitter. The Florida state bar cited him for actions that were “unprofessional, reckless, insensitive, and demonstrated poor judgment” and the House Ethics Committee is currently investigating the matter. Gaetz has apologized for the tweet and is actively seeking re-election.
- Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Hunter was indicted last year for improper use of campaign funds. Prosecutors allege some of this was to pay for multiple extramarital affairs, which he has denied. Additionally, a former congressional staffer has accused him of sexual assault. Though he denies wrongdoing and is awaiting trial, he has still found time to send out Islamophobic mailers for his 2020 re-election campaign.
- Former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Issa, who left Congress last year, has a curious past. Decades ago, he was arrested and accused of car theft, though the charges were later dismissed. He also faced questions over a suspicious fire at his electronics warehouse in 1982, but was later able to settle out of court with his insurance company, which had originally refused to pay for the damage. Earlier this month, a Senate committee postponed consideration of his nomination for a Trump administration position after Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) noted concerns about his FBI background check. Days later, he announced a primary challenge to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).
- Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Jordan has been accused by several former wrestlers at Ohio State University of failing to intervene and stop sexual abuse by the former team physician, when Jordan was an assistant coach there. Jordan has dismissed the allegations as “fake news” and claimed he “would have done something about it” if he’d seen the abuse. He is currently seeking re-election.
- Kris Kobach
Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, is known for his ties to white nationalists, his virulently anti-immigrant views, and his attempts at voter suppression. He was recently involved in a botched attempt to build a privately funded border wall and was also ordered last year to attend remedial legal classes after failing to defend Kansas’ anti-voter law in court. Despite losing badly in last year’s gubernatorial election, Kobach is running for the open seat of retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).
- Corey Lewandowski
Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign manager has said he is considering a 2020 run for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire. He was charged with simple battery in 2016 following an altercation with a Breitbart reporter at a campaign event, though though the charges were ultimately dropped. In congressional testimony this month, he admitted that he has repeatedly lied to the media.
- Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA)
In 2013, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics recommended that the Ethics Committee investigate McMorris-Rodgers. They found “substantial reason” to believe she had improperly used official funds for campaign purposes. She expressed “regret” for the error and is currently seeking re-election.
- Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC)
In 2018, the House Ethics Committee determined that Meadows mishandled sexual misconduct allegations against a top aide and said he “could have and should have done more to ensure that his congressional office was free from discrimination or the perception of discrimination.” Meadows is currently seeking re-election.
- Roy Moore
During his unsuccessful 2017 Senate bid, Moore was accused of serial sexual misconduct, including child molestation. Moore denied all the allegations and attempted to sue his accusers. A former state Supreme Court chief justice, Moore was twice removed from the bench for failure to follow the law. He announced in June that he would seek the open seat of retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).
- Former Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)
Price was Trump’s first Health and Human Services secretary until he was forced to resign in September 2017 in connection with several ethics concerns. Among other things, Price was accused of wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for private flights. Price paid back a fraction of the money and recently asked Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) to reward him with a Senate appointment.
- Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ)
Schweikert is currently under Ethics Committee investigation after the panel found “substantial reason” to believe he improperly used his official funds for campaign purposes. He was already facing a separate probe into alleged improper payments to a former staffer. He has suggested this was a mere bookkeeping error. He is currently seeking re-election.
- Former Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA)
Last year, Taylor lost his first re-election race after it was revealed that he had failed to pay his taxes on time and had knowingly supported a legal-but-questionable attempt to use his own campaign staff to get a Democratic-turned-Independent candidate on the ballot. His staff engaged in what a judge called “out-and-out fraud,” though Taylor denied knowledge of their efforts to forge ballot signatures. Taylor is now running for U.S. Senate.
- Tommy Tuberville
Former college football coach Tuberville was accused of fraud after a hedge fund he managed lost more than $1 million for investors. He denied wrongdoing and settled out of court in 2013. He is seeking the open seat of retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).
- Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS)
Weeks before the 2018 election, Watkins was accused of sexual misconduct toward an acquaintance 12 years earlier — an allegation his campaign dismissed as preposterous. He was also accused of exaggerating his qualifications. His campaign recently tweeted a video featuring Vice President Mike Pence ostensibly backing his 2020 reelection.
- Rep. Don Young (R-AL)
Young has been called one of the “most corrupt members of Congress” by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Among other things, he was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee in 2014 for failing to report almost $60,000 worth of private jet rides, hunting trips, meals, and other gifts. Young apologized and called them “oversights.” The longest serving Republican in House history, Young will seek a 25th term in 2020.
Nick Vachon contributed research for this story.
Published with permission of The American Independent.