When the FBI raided his daughter's home three weeks before Election Day, Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon figured he knew exactly whom to blame. The agents were looking for evidence that he had used his influence to help Karen Weldon win lobbying and consulting contracts, but the 10-term Congressman wasn't mad at just them. "It's a woman who runs an organization called CREW," he complained to a blogger for the Daily Pennsylvanian. That woman is a tenacious 40-year-old former prosecutor named Melanie Sloan, whose targets have included Tom DeLay and Mark Foley. She is executive director of the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Since its founding in 2003, CREW has worked through legal and regulatory channels to press allegations of impropriety almost exclusively against Republicans. Ironically, given CREW's new prominence as a favorite target of vast-left-wing-conspiracy theorists, its litigious approach borrows heavily from the conservative group Judicial Watch, which in the 1990s helped propel Paula Jones' sexual-harassment accusations against Bill Clinton into his impeachment.
Sloan, a former congressional staff member for such liberal lawmakers as Michigan's John Conyers and New York's Charles Schumer, was working as an assistant U.S. Attorney when two Democratic activists approached her with the idea of trying something like Judicial Watch from the left. For its first 18 months, CREW was a one-woman shop. An early target was the seemingly invincible DeLay. Sloan asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the House majority leader's fund raising and sued the Federal Election Commission to get more info about his dealings with a Kansas utility. But she was not getting much support from Democratic officials, particularly in the House, where the two parties had declared an "ethics truce" that effectively blocked either side from filing a complaint against the other.
Until, that is, DeLay redistricted Texas Congress- man Chris Bell--now the Democratic nominee for Texas Governor--out of a job. In Bell, Sloan finally had the in-house ally she needed, and under House rules formally filed a CREW-drafted com-plaint in June 2004. Eventually, the Ethics Committee unanimously admonished the majority leader--an early sign of the troubles that led to DeLay's resignation and an achieve- ment Sloan counts as "the thing I'm most proud of."
More recently, it was CREW that first alerted the FBI to the fact that Foley, a Florida Congressman, had been sending suspiciously friendly e-mails to a former House page. This was two months before the scandal broke publicly. The FBI declined then to investigate but opened a probe after ABC News reported on other, sexually suggestive e-mails Foley sent.
Representative Weldon has accused CREW of orchestrating last week's raids for maximum impact just before an election. But the FBI is part of the Bush Administration's Justice Department, and CREW's initial complaint against Weldon was filed more than two years ago.