In a news article purporting to expose the partisan ties of government watchdog groups calling for an investigation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), The Wall Street Journal focused heavily on organizations with ties to the Democratic Party but failed to note that two watchdog groups with strong links to Republicans are members of the coalition advocating investigation into the alleged ethics violations surrounding DeLay. Media Matters for America has previously noted a similar misleading article that appeared in the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill.
The May 10 Journal article by staff reporter Brody Mullins primarily focused on one government watchdog group critical of DeLay, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), reporting that "the 'Citizens' behind this group have strong partisan ties" and highlighting the Democratic campaign contributions of CREW's board of directors. The article quoted DeLay spokesman Dan Allen, who claimed that CREW and similar interest groups "are run by former Democratic staffers or candidates, they are being funded by liberal heavy-hitters like George Soros and they are constantly attacking House Republicans as part of a well-organized political strategy." In addition, the article asserted that "since 1999, directors at the most-active government watchdogs have contributed more than $1 million to Democratic campaigns, and just a few thousand to Republican coffers." But the Journal did not specify which groups constituted the "most-active."
The Journal failed to mention that CREW and the other organizations named in the article are members of the Congressional Ethics Coalition, an umbrella group including organizations with Republican ties that has demanded investigations into DeLay's alleged misbehavior. A chart accompanying the article highlighted other coalition members, including Common Cause, Public Citizen, and the Campaign Legal Center, to emphasize these groups' "strong links to Democrats" without noting that they are part of a broader coalition. The article also failed to note that the Campaign Legal Center's president, Trevor Potter, is a Republican who served in President George H.W. Bush's administration. Potter has donated money to Republican Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Warner (R-VA), and Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Mark Foley (R-FL), Nick Lampson (R-TX) and James Greenwood (R-PA), as well as to McCain's political action committee, Straight Talk America.
Nor did the Journal note that Judicial Watch, a conservative legal organization best known for its numerous lawsuits against the Clinton administration, is also a member of the coalition. Judicial Watch has received more than $7.7 million from Richard Mellon Scaife -- a billionaire right-wing financier not often described as a "liberal heavy-hitter." The president of the organization, Tom Fitton, recently spoke at a press conference alongside representatives of CREW and other Congressional Ethics Coalition members. He said:
FITTON: Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his lobbyist allies have been caught virtually red-handed laundering lobbyist and Indian gambling money to fund a junket abroad. [...] If these allegations are true, rules of the House, in the least, have been violated. Yet, for the foreseeable future, there will be no investigations. Because of the ethics gridlock, violators will go uninvestigated and rule-breaking will go unchallenged.
Mullins wrote two similar articles about CREW for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call (June 2004 and July 2004 [subscription required]) that took aim at the organization's alleged Democratic partisanship. In the June article, he claimed that government "watchdog groups have given money almost exclusively to Democrats since 1994," but failed to note contributions by individuals associated with Judicial Watch and the Campaign Legal Center, an omission for which CREW president Melanie Sloan criticized him in a letter to the editor [Roll Call, 6/24/04].