If Rep. James P. Moran of Virginia were a Republican, he'd be a household name by now -- right up there in the infamous conservative pantheon with Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Newt Gingrich.
He'd be lambasted by leading opinion-makers for his greed, hypocrisy and violent outbursts. He'd be an object of ridicule on late-night talk shows. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe would work his vilified name into every available media appearance and political ad about Republicans being in bed with Big Business.
Instead, Democrat Jim Moran's troubled and troubling career in government has gone largely unnoticed outside the Beltway. The six-term congressman, up for re-election this fall, ought to be one of the media's top poster boys for abuse of power.
Moran's saga began in 1984, five years after he was first elected to the Alexandria (Va.) City Council. While in office, he was charged with casting a vote that helped a developer friend win a bid for a lucrative plot of public land. A special prosecutor concluded that Moran had violated the state's conflict-of-interest law. He sobbed as he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of vote-peddling, received a year's probation for a reduced conflict-of-interest misdemeanor charge and was forced to resign.
End of story for a two-bit crook? Just the opposite. A year later, Moran won the mayor's race in the same liberal 'burb in which he had disgraced himself. He served as mayor for the next five years. Next, he won election to Congress in 1990, and clinched a seat on the House Budget and Appropriations Committees. Despite humiliating his district repeatedly over the past dozen years, Moran is poised for another easy victory in November.
Moran is the short-fused ex-boxer who had to be subdued by Capitol Hill police when he threw a punch at California Republican Rep. Randy Cunningham on the House floor in 1995. After the incident, Moran blamed "talk radio" for creating a hostile environment in Washington. Presumably, talk radio was also to blame for Moran's behavior earlier that year, when he screamed, "I'll break your nose!" at Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton during a hearing, and in 2000, when he reportedly put a chokehold on an 8-year-old boy, whom he accused of trying to carjack his campaign-subsidized vehicle. (Moran, who was using the car to pick up his kids, can't afford his own wheels despite his nearly $200,000 congressional salary.)
It is not known whether talk radio was on in Moran's home on June 23, 1999, when his then-wife, Mary, placed an emergency call to police during a domestic argument. No charges were filed, but she filed for divorce the next day.
Since then, Moran's political dealings have put a rotten twist on that old saying, "The personal is political." Moran's personal finance troubles -- the former stockbroker lost nearly $200,000 in bad trades in 1995-96 (no wonder he opposes privatizing Social Security) -- have led him to accept $75,000 in loans from corporate bigwigs that no ordinary American in as dire straits as Moran could obtain. All perfectly legal, say the experts, but fishy-smelling nonetheless.
Moran revealed in financial disclosure statements filed last week that he accepted a $50,000 loan in January 2001 from an "old friend," billionaire America Online co-founder James Kimsey. The congressman claims to have paid the business mogul back at 15 percent interest (some friend) over three months, and his spokesman emphasizes the loan came with no accompanying quid pro quo. Still, the timing stinks. Kimsey's gift came on the heels of Moran's disclosure that he had received another Big Business-tied loan -- $25,000 from "old friend" Terry Lierman, a drug industry lobbyist representing Schering-Plough.
After getting that unsecured loan at a lower-than-market interest rate, Moran co-sponsored a bill that would extend the patent on Schering-Plough's allergy medicine Claritin -- and prevent generic drug manufacturers from offering inexpensive alternatives. So much for helping poor seniors get cheaper drugs.
Where are Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle and Terry McAuliffe when we need them to rail about the perils of political corruption and corporate influence? Busy getting back-scratching bad boys like Jim Moran re-elected.