CREW and the Problem With Partisan “Non-Partisan Watchdog Groups”

There is a new website called “CREW Exposed,” which is pretty brief and to the point: it highlights statistics showing the degree to which Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government ethics watchdog that does not identify any partisan or ideological allegiances in its materials, concentrates its criticism, investigations, formal complaints and ethical exposes on Republicans and conservatives rather than Democrats and liberals at a ratio of about 5 to 1.

As those of you who are logical and fair will agree, this is nothing close to the actual ratio of corrupt and ethically dubious Republicans to Democrats. The real ratio is 1 to 1. The two political parties are equally prone to corruption, though they may fluctuate from time to time after one of them really gets caught and embarrassed, or when one gets some power and becomes careless. There are as many unethical and untrustworthy Democrats as Republicans, and always will be.

“CREW Exposed,” which its itself is a right-biased organization, isn’t revealing anything that hasn’t been obvious for a long time… in fact, since CREW was founded as a liberal imitator of Judicial Watch, the conservative ethics watchdog that drove the Clinton Administration crazy.  Its executive director came out of the most liberal enclaves of Capital Hill and its staff from like origins. CREW immediately found favor with the liberal warriors who pass for journalists at MSNBC, and its targets were usually Republicans, though like Judicial Watch, it has gone after just enough miscreants from it favored party—always the ones that everyone else knew were ethics miscreants—to be able to maintain the fiction that the organization wasn’t allied to partisan causes and policies. You could call it a fiction, or call it a lie.

It is a lie. I don’t understand why such groups like CREW feel it is necessary to be deceptive and misrepresent themselves. In fact, CREW’s deception undermines its legitimate purpose and furthers an illegitimate one instead. The illegitimate purpose is to claim objectivity, so journalists, themselves likely to be left-biased to their very DNA, can cite CREW as a credible and unbiased authority—“a non-partisan ethics watchdog on Capitol Hill”—when a reporter is trying to take down a conservative politician. But CREW isn’t unbiased, and can’t stand ten minutes of scrutiny without having its bias exposed. This is a double lie, intended to deceive the public and to allow journalists to do likewise. It is also a stupid lie, because it is easily exposed.

The legitimate purpose undermined is this: CREW usually does a good job, as far as it goes. The conservative pols it fingers are usually corrupt, and deserve to be called on it. But because CREW has no integrity and refuses to be up front with its objectives and partisan mission, its criticism can be deflected by its targets and denied as a partisan hit job.

I have always wanted to ask Melanie Sloan, CREW’s head, if she really believes that liberals are not as corrupt as conservatives. Or whether she is just a another operative on the left, trying to help Democrats prevail by bringing down Republicans, and making the utilitarian calculation that corrupt Democrats are tolerable because they vote the right way. Neither position makes sense:

  • If an organization is really interested in better government, it should be equally vigilant against corruption by both parties.
  • If it really wants to be effective, it should strive for objectivity and fairness.
  • If it is dedicated to ethical conduct, it should make certain it doesn’t misrepresent its own biases and agenda.

CREW does none of these things, making it far less of a force for reform in Washington than it could and should be, while leaving a gaping vacuum in essential role of non-partisan, objective, government ethics watchdog.

Objectivity isn’t easy, but it is not impossible. It would be encouraging to see some group at least make the effort.

6 thoughts on “CREW and the Problem With Partisan “Non-Partisan Watchdog Groups”

  1. Sloan even defended Anthony Weiner (
    I’m suspicious of “CREW Exposed”–they are pretty tight about who they are, and their one funding source looks kinda scuzzy to me. But there’s no question that Sloan isn’t committed to ethical behavior–she seems committed to “getting” Republicans.

    • Oh, CREW Exposed is surely a right-wing front group, but their data in the chart is good—I could have put together the same thing, and casual perusal of CREW’s activities showed the same trends anyway. The question I should most ask Sloan, I left out: “Why aren’t you MORE offended by corruption from your own side of the aisle, by people you trust and who have to fight for your principles, than the corruption by those who oppose you?”

    • Get used to it. He’s an icon now, with Enron, Clinton, Nixon, “weapons of mass destruction,” Abu Ghraib, Abscam, McCarthy, Madoff, Abramoff, Watergate, Salem, O.J. The first sexting Congressman….to get caught.

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