Directing his attention toward West Virginia, political commentator Robert Novak suggests that Democratic Congressman Alan Mollohan's own ethical problems could hurt his party's chances of using the scorcher against Republicans.
Under investigation for his personal financial situation, Mollohan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, is "in hot water over ethics," says the April 12 Evans-Novak Political Report.
Novak notes that Mollohan's problems, which were big enough to have made the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, will be tough for Democrats to shake, especially since other ranking Democrats are facing legal and ethical problems.
Mollohan, whose father held the same office for nine terms, is in trouble over targeted earmarking of pork projects as well as the possibility that he hid assets on congressional financial disclosure statements.
"This story will not be going away, if only because of Mollohan's position," Novak wrote. "Mollohan has also worked closely with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on avoiding working with Republicans on ethics reform, instead hoping to use it as an issue against them.
"Combined with the ethical and possibly legal problems for Democratic Representatives John Conyers (Mich.), William Jefferson (La.), and Cynthia McKinney (Ga.), Mollohan's situation could undercut Democrats' efforts to cast Republicans as the party of corruption. Mollohan received $23,000 from MZM, the same company whose lobbyist Mitchell Wade corrupted disgraced former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.). (Mollohan donated that money to charity after Cunningham's fall from grace.)," Novak wrote.
Novak observes that if Mollohan, a moderate, could be "taken out" of power, it would be a bonanza to the "perennially weak" West Virginia Republican Party. Mollohan is considered the party favorite to take Sen. Robert Byrd's seat when he retires.
Novak also notes that Mollohan's "sudden problems" may explain why the National Republican Campaign Committee has been spending time campaigning and raising money "in what appears to be such a hopeless district."
"Mollohan began the year with half the cash on hand of his opponent, State Del. Chris Wakim (R)," wrote Novak. "Normally this would not be a problem. Although Wakim is the strongest candidate Republicans have put up against Mollohan in years, that really isn't saying much. But with this added twist, Wakim can create a real race in this district, which President Bush carried in 2004 with 58 percent of the vote. Wakim has already seized the issue."
Mollohan's trouble with earmarked funds has to do with the small number of beneficiaries who happen to be run by associates and campaign contributors.
"There is some question as to whether he benefited indirectly from the earmarks in a personal way," wrote Novak.