A flood of corruption scandals involving state and local Democratic Party lawmakers is threatening to muddy the party’s image as it enters what was already a tough election cycle.
In a week Democrats won’t soon forget, the Democrat-dominated California Senate took the unprecedented step Friday of voting 28-1 to suspend with pay three state senators in their own party accused or convicted of criminal conduct.
State Sen. Leland Yee was arrested Wednesday on federal gun trafficking and corruption charges. Sen. Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty Feb. 24 to charges of influence-peddling, and Sen. Roderick Wright was convicted Jan. 28 of perjury and voter fraud.
None of the state senators has resigned from office, although Mr. Yee has pulled out of the race for California secretary of state.
“One is an anomaly, two a coincidence, but three? That’s not what this Senate is about,” California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said to lawmakers before the suspension vote.
Meanwhile, Patrick Cannon, the Democratic mayor of Charlotte, N.C., resigned Wednesday after he was charged with accepting more than $48,000 in bribes during an FBI sting operation. In Rhode Island, the Democrat-led state legislature voted to replace former House Speaker Gordon Fox, who stepped down after the FBI raided his home and office.
The FBI also conducted a Wednesday raid on the offices of New York Assemblyman William Scarborough, another Democrat. Mr. Scarborough told reporters later that the raid centered on whether he had abused his state expense account.
In Illinois, federal agents Wednesday seized computers at the home and office of Democratic state Rep. Keith Farnham, who resigned March 19, citing health concerns. The Associated Press reported that the agents were searching for evidence of child pornography.
The sheer number of federal arrests and raids stunned liberal commentators such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who noted last week that California Democrats lost their supermajority in the state Senate because of the inactive status of the three lawmakers.
“[T]here are now three Democratic state senators with federal criminal indictments against them just this session resulting already in eight felony convictions,” Ms. Maddow said. “And yes, the Republican Party is essentially defunct in most of California and probably beyond reviving, but if anything can bring them back, it’s probably days like this.”
On the other side are conservatives asking whether the Obama administration’s Justice Department is deliberately cleaning house on behalf of the Democratic Party now to prevent the scandals from cropping up in the weeks before the Nov. 4 elections.
“It is entirely possible that the head honchos of the Democrat Party are basically behind an effort to take out all of their bad apples before the election; make them old news by the time the election comes around,” conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said on his Friday show.
“The timing here is obviously curious, and it really is hard to believe the FBI would be working against the wishes of the regime, isn’t it?” Mr. Limbaugh said.
Michelle Malkin, author of “Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks and Cronies,” reminded her readers in a Friday column that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, accused Republicans of creating a “culture of corruption” during the 2006 election cycle.
Those scandals, which resulted in the resignations of four congressional Republicans, triggered a backlash that helped Democrats capture both the House and Senate.
“[Mrs. Pelosi] cast herself and her minions as America’s political clean-up crew. But once again, the culture of corruption boomerang has swung back around to smack Democrats in their smug mugs,” said Ms. Malkin. “The cynical Swamp Drainers just hope you forget it all by election time. Don’t.”
Democrats counter that Republicans have had their own share of recent scandals, including the federal indictment of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, who are accused of accepting illegal gifts.
Although Mr. McDonnell is the higher-profile figure, he has been overwhelmed by the sheer number of Democratic local and state officials facing corruption accusations. Examples include the corruption conviction in January of former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and the bribery conviction in February of former Trenton, N.J., Mayor Tony Mack.
Republican strategist Dick Wadhams said the corruption scandals could hurt Democrats in state and local elections, especially in the vicinity of the accused wrongdoers.
“I think it hurts Democrats in the jurisdictions where these elected officials come from,” said Mr. Wadhams. “The preponderance of the incidents is certainly not news for the Democrats across the country, but I would say it would have more of a local effect.”
He added that the scandals may be a byproduct of California’s Democratic Party dominance.
“When you consolidate power in one party, this is what happens,” Mr. Wadhams said.