By JANET HOOK
Los Angeles Times
Dec. 9, 2008, 11:25PM
WASHINGTON — The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday marks the latest in a series of recent scandals erupting around Democratic politicians — an ironic turn for a party that won control of Congress in 2006 in part by saying it would end a "culture of corruption" under GOP leadership.
Democrats also highlighted Republican ethical problems in the successful bid to expand their congressional majorities in 2008, and Barack Obama made government transparency and a crackdown on lobbyist influence a central theme of his presidential campaign.
The corruption charges against Blagojevich come as one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, remains under investigation by a House ethics panel.
The panel is looking at Rangel's occupation of several rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan, failure to pay taxes on an offshore rental property and other ethics questions.
Tuesday, it announced that the investigation was expanding to include allegations that Rangel supported a tax break for an oil drilling company in exchange for a donation to a school that would bear his name.
Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana is awaiting trial on charges of bribery, money laundering and misusing his congressional office, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Saturday, he was ousted from his House seat in a run-off election.
Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York resigned after revelations that he was involved in a prostitution ring.
The allegations against Blagojevich — including charges that he solicited favors to influence his decision about who should replace Obama in the Senate— were shocking to fellow Democrats.
"It straightened my hair," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla.
Wearing a bull's-eye
Democrats said they hoped the political fallout for their party would be limited, but they acknowledged that the developments would give Republicans a new political target during Obama's transition months.
"Do I think Republicans will try to make something of this?" said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "Of course."
Indeed, the new chairman of the GOP's Senate campaign committee was quick to respond to the Blagojevich news.
"Every Democratic and labor union official, whether in Illinois or in their national organizations, who has spoken with the governor or his aides about this U.S. Senate seat should step forward and immediately make public the full details of those conversations and meetings," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Obama said he had no contact with the governor concerning his Senate replacement, but he said little more because of the investigation.
The political risk for Democrats is that voters will be as repulsed by Democrats' ethics problems as they were by the scandals that contributed to the defeat of former GOP Reps. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, Bob Ney of Ohio, Mark Foley of Florida and others.