Felons cannot vote in the United States, but a record can’t stop someone from running for a seat in Congress. Ex-Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards might be the latest lawmaker to hit the campaign trail after a scandal, but he is hardly the first.
Welcome to U.S. News’ "Convicts for Congress: a brief history."
Former Rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill.: He was a rising star in the Democratic Party, a Harvard graduate and former Rhodes Scholar when he won his bid for Congress in 1992. However, Rep. Mel Reynolds’ congressional career was brief. In 1994, just a few months before his first run for re-election, the congressman was accused of engaging in a sexual relationship with an underage campaign volunteer. While the scandal overshadowed his race, Reynolds denied the charges and kept campaigning. He ran unopposed for his seat and won re-election. A year later, Reynolds was convicted of obstruction of justice, sexual assault and solicitation of child pornography. He resigned from the House of Representatives and served more than seven years in prison on the sex abuse charges and a series of fraud convictions. President Bill Clinton commuted the end of his fraud sentence.
In 2004, Reynolds waged a political comeback on the South Side of Chicago. He called Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., “invisible” in the district and argued that before his conviction he had been “doing an outstanding job.” He lost. In 2012, Reynolds announced once again that he wanted to get back to Congress and ran in the special election to replace Jackson after the latter was forced to resign from Congress amid his own scandal. Reynolds, despite his campaign slogan of “Redemption,” lost again in 2013.
Most recently, Reynolds was accused of possessing pornography in Zimbabwe. He recently has been “in hiding” in South Africa.
Former Rep. William Jefferson, D-La.: In 2009, former Rep. William Jefferson was convicted of bribery and sentenced to 13 years in prison, one of the lengthiest sentences ever to be handed down to a member of Congress. But Jefferson did not step down from his seat when the charges surfaced. Even after the FBI raided his congressional offices in May of 2006 and disclosed that they had found $90,000 in his home freezer the previous year, Jefferson was re-elected to Congress. It was not until 2008, after a federal grand jury indicted Jefferson on 16 counts of corruption, that he was defeated. Despite appeals, Jefferson currently is serving his sentence in Texas.
Former Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio: Former Rep. James Traficant Jr. served nine terms in Congress and seven years behind bars for taking bribes and racketeering. On the day he was released from a Minnesota prison in 2009, he walked out with a simple plastic sack containing some belongings. It was a far cry from the reputation the 17-year House member had earned in Congress, where he had been known for his colorful floor speeches, allusions to "Star Trek" and legendary toupee. In the months that followed his prison release, Traficant decided he would run for Congress, again. At 68, Traficant launched his second bid against his former aide, Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan. The first time Traficant ran against Ryan, Traficant launched his campaign from his jail cell and managed to get 15 percent of the vote. Traficant ran as an independent against Ryan in the second campaign with the promise of dissolving the IRS. He lost.
Rep. Donald Lukens, R-Ohio : He was the proud national leader of the Young Republicans in the 1960s with a handsome smile and the nickname “Buz,” but former Rep. Donald Lukens' career was overshadowed by scandal in the end. He was convicted in 1989 of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after he was accused of paying a young woman for sex. He refused to step down from Congress after his conviction, ran in the Republican primary and lost to John Boehner, who would go on to become speaker of the House. He did resign later, however, when the House Ethics Committee threatened to investigate him. In 1996, the congressman’s troubles continued when he was convicted of bribery. He served more than two years in prison and died in 2010 at the age of 79.
Rep. Jay Kim, R-Calif.: He made history as the first Korean immigrant elected to Congress in 1992, but former Rep. Jay Kim pleaded guilty in August 1997 to campaign finance fraud after he accepted more than $200,000 in illegal contributions. He did not step down from Congress, but was put under house arrest in 1998, which gave him a disadvantage on the campaign trail. He lost his primary bid against Rep. Gary Miller that year. Kim to this day says he misunderstood campaign finance laws and did not knowingly accept illegal money. Today, he serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum and keeps a blog called “Yesterday’s Dream is Today’s Opportunity,” in which he chronicles his experiences as a foreign relations specialist.