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Mark Foley's Congressional Page Scandal

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Research Paper - Mark Foley Congressional Page Scandal

If there is one thing that members of Congress are no stranger too, it's the potential impact of a public scandal involving a member of either the House or the Senate. The impact of these scandals can be far reaching and very public. Many things come into play when a scandal is brought to light in the public eye. The way a party reacts to the incident is very important; many in Congress want to distance themselves as far as possible from any such scandal, placing blame on others but not on the group as a whole. Even though, many would rather see their party damaged than themselves. The effects that it can have on the public opinion and eventually Congress can play a big part in how the current Legislative Branch operates and in some cases it affects who it is composed of. One of the more recent and important scandals that shook the Congress was the Mark Foley Congressional Page scandal. The scandal surrounding Mark Foley's illicit messages to the young House Pages was a key issue in allowing the Democratic Party to gain a House majority in the 2006 Congressional Elections.

To understand how this happened we must look at the institutions that it affected and how it played a part in allowing this scandal to impact the elections outcome. It is important to acknowledge that all of these issues and institutions play an intricate part with each other, it is nearly impossible to talk about the impact on one institution without evaluating the effects that it had on another. Obviously, in the few months prior to any American political election public opinion is extremely important to many candidates; this is the only thing that keeps them in an elected office. There are few times in history that the outcome of an election and the opinions of the voters have been directly impacted from a Legislative scandal. We expect that there will always be members of Congress that will lie, cheat, take bribes, and commit any number of other crimes. But even when a Congressman's actions are deemed legal they can have a long lasting and powerful effect on people's mindsets when they step into that voting both. Here we will evaluate one such instance of those opinions playing a part in determining the restructuring of one of America's oldest and greatest institutions.

Mark Foley 52, a Republican from the West Palm Beach area of Florida, resigned in September of 2006 after the public disclosure of sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages between him and former Congressional Pages that went back at least three years. He then entered an in-patient rehabilitation facility for alcohol abuse and behavior problems at an undisclosed location where he stayed for 30 days. His attorney claimed that Mr. Foley was abused by a Clergyman as a teenager but accepts responsibility for sending sexually explicit correspondence to the boys. He also acknowledged publicly for the first time what many in Washington already knew: That Foley is gay (Kumar).

Needless to say that the scandal gave Democrats a strong chance of capturing the Palm Beach Florida seat, a seat once considered a virtual lock for Foley who has served in the House for six consecutive terms. Public opinion was drastically affected in and around Foley's district. Many of the voters expressed their discontent to the fact that not only did Foley get away with these activities for so long, but also because it seemed like the leaders of the Republican Party not only knew of his actions before hand, but also neglected to act on the information. "When you have a member of Congress abusing his authority and his positions with the Pages, and you have leaders of Congress looking the other way - protecting their majority instead of protecting the Pages - people here saw that and said, that's the final straw" (Nagourney). But how exactly did this scandal effect voters and how they acted in the 2006 elections. The timing of the incident was very crucial to the Democratic victory. This scandal became public in late September of 2006, just months from the election.

The effect that this scandal had on America was not limited to the Districts of Florida in which Foley served, but rather it impacted the entire country. Nowhere was the GOP's task more daunting than in Ohio, where five House seats were now up for grabs. This Scandal effected many other states as well, in 2004 President Bush pulled in 68% of the Presidential election votes from Idaho, and in 2004 the state had an all GOP Congressional Delegation. So needless to say, America does not get more Republican than Idaho. But to keep one of Idaho's seats in Republican hands in 2006, the national GOP poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars for television ads and brought in a parade of party bigwigs to campaign. Such a huge effort in a district that should be a cakewalk for Republicans is a measure of how deep into GOP territory the fight for Congress had reached. On October 19, 2006 GOP pollster Frank Luntz said of Republican prospects, "There used to be 15 races that were vulnerable, then it was 20.... Today you'd say 35 seats are in play" (Hook).

This Scandal not only affected the Republican Party but the Democrats as well, obviously they had another issue to push into the public eye in an attempt to discredit Republican Representatives. Tim Harper from the Toronto Star, states before the 2006 elections that, "Democrats are poised to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives and could even capture the Senate. If they do, they can thank two issues that any voter can easily grasp, sexual indiscretion and war. It could be easily seen that some people would blame Foley for something that might bring down the Republican Party in Congress." He goes on to say that the Foley scandal will play a central role in at least four or five districts, but it reinforces the longstanding Democratic message of a "culture of corruption" in Washington. Republicans were engaged in full damage control over the Page sex scandal. At the same time Democrats attempted to make a "wave" by making these races national referenda on the Republicans, while the Republicans are trying to turn them into contests based on local issues to blunt their national unpopularity (Harper).

Not only did this news affect undecided voters but it also affected the voting habits of strong leaning conservatives. John C. Green, Director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron said, "The Foley disclosures could serve to push more undecided voters into Democrats camps while discouraging conservative Republicans from bothering to vote"


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