By Jackie Kucinich - 10/03/06 12:00 AM EDT
Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) is not the first member of Congress to face a firestorm of public outrage for engaging in inappropriate conduct with underage pages, but he could be the first to be prosecuted under strong Internet-crime laws.
Ex-House counsel Stanley Brand said that the difference between the current page incident and an incident two decades ago involving two other lawmakers is the passage of cyber crime laws in recent years and the presence of Internet communication.
“It’s not just someone’s word against another; there are e-mails,” he said. “The difficulty of proving an illicit solicitation is not there. I’m sure that is what the FBI is looking into.”
Foley resigned suddenly on Friday after ABC News reported about questionable e-mails and sexually explicit instant messages between a page and the six-term legislator Thursday and Friday. On Monday, Foley checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center for treatment.
House GOP leaders, Brand said, could also face consequences politically and legally if the FBI discovers that members of the leadership team knew about Foley’s behavior before ABC News released the e-mails and instant messages.
In 1983, the House censured Reps. Daniel B. Crane (R-Ill.) and Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) after their inappropriate relations with House pages were discovered.
Crane lost his election shortly thereafter while Studds was reelected and remained in the House until retiring in 1997.
While Crane and Studds escaped prosecution, Foley likely will not. According to Orin Kerr, an associate professor at George Washington University, Foley could have broken the law under 18 U.S. Code 2422(b), which states that an individual “using the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce … who knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces” an individual who is under the age of 18 to “engage in prostitution or any sexual activity” can be charged with a criminal offense. If convicted, the individual can be imprisoned for five to 30 years.
As a result of Crane and Studds’s misconduct, the House created the Page Board, a body of lawmakers and House officials, which oversee the activities and education of pages.
Three members of the House as well as House Sergeant at Arms Wilson Livingood, Clerk of the House Karen Haas and former clerk Donald Anderson make up the Page Board, according to House Administration Committee spokeswoman Sally Collins.
Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) are the board’s House members.
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) announced several changes to the page program yesterday at a joint press conference with Shimkus including the establishment of a hotline for “parents, grandparents, pages, former pages …”
“Anyone who has a concern about improper contact … can confidentially report improper contact,” Hastert said.
Although many improvements have been made to the page program in order to provide more supervision of students, Hastert said House leaders should do more to ensure that pages are safe after they leave their positions in the House.
Shimkus added that he plans to meet with the Page Board in the coming weeks to construct further programs to protect pages.
One member of the board said he was left out of the discussions entirely.
“I am now equally outraged to learn that Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced today that there will be changes in the policies of the House page program,” said Kildee. “Once again, I was not informed of the meeting today, nor was I consulted in any way about any proposed changes.”
“Speaker Hastert’s announcement this afternoon is yet another example of the House Republican leaders being more concerned with finding political cover for themselves than with the safety and well being of the House pages,” he added.
Capito, for her part, directed all of her outrage towards Foley.
“As a member of the Page Board — and more importantly as a mother — I am appalled by Mark Foley’s despicable conduct and hope that his actions be held accountable by the full weight of our justice system,” she said in a release.
The board typically meets two times a year to discuss the agenda for the pages, plan activities, arrange seminars and discuss enrollment, according to Collins.
There are 63 pages admitted to the program each year; Republican members choose 45 of them and Democrats choose 18.
In order to be admitted to the competitive program, applicants must be at least 16 years old, a junior in high school and have a grade point average of 3.0 or above during the academic year.
Members of Congress sponsor page applicants and then page program staffers interview them. The Clerk’s office manages the page program.
Once accepted, pages live in an on-campus dormitory and attend classes in addition to their service in the House.
The program is highly regimented. Pages attend classes in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress at 6:45 a.m. and are taught a range of topics including mathematics, social studies and foreign languages.
When they are not in class, their duties are mainly to deliver correspondence and legislative material between members, answer phones in party cloakrooms and prepare the House Floor for sessions. They have a 10 p.m. curfew on weeknights, which extends to midnight on weekends.
They are paid an annual rate of $17,540, with a monthly gross salary of $1,461.67, according to informational materials provided on several members’ websites. They are required to pay a residence hall fee of $400 a month, which includes meals and is automatically deducted from their paychecks.
At all times during the workday they are to remain in uniform: blue blazers, a white shirt and gray slacks or skirts.
The page program has had its share of problems traditionally associated with teenagers. In 2002, 11 pages were dismissed for marijuana use. In 1996, five pages were suspended from the program for alcohol use.
Matthew Loraditch, a 21-year-old former page, told the Chicago Tribune Sunday that he had known about the “creepy” e-mails for years. Loraditch runs the House Page Alumni Association’s Internet messaging board. That website was shut down Monday.
“Because of the current situation. I am shutting down the board until I can provide a proper statement about my part in what has been going on. I appreciate your patience,” the site said. The site was taken down entirely yesterday afternoon.
Loraditch is listed as the website’s licensee at the bottom of the home page.