Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer

The Foley Follies: What Can Be Learned From The History of Congressional Sex Scandals, And How Can the Page Program Be Reformed?


Friday, Oct. 06, 2006

Though Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley's solicitation of sex with underage boys working as Congressional pages is making front-page news, it is, regrettably, not unprecedented. Most Congressional sex scandals have involved adults, but four have included minors - at least two of whom were Congressional pages.

I've taken a look at the historical record of such Congressional indiscretions, and in this column, I'll ask what, if anything, we can we learn from them - particularly, from those relating to Congressional pages?

A Brief History of Congressional Sex Scandals

I've compiled a brief history of Congressional sex scandals, going back to 1850. While I cannot attest that I have located every such scandal, I do believe the thirty-six I have found are representative. And I am certain I have found all the reported cases that are similar to the unfolding Foley scandal - in that they involve minors.

Neither Congressional Republicans nor Democrats can boast sexual probity regarding minors, or inappropriate relationships with pages, or in any other way, for that matter. Nonetheless, according to my historical survey, Democrats may be a bit more vigorous in their indiscretions: My survey shows twenty Democrats, versus sixteen Republicans, involved in sex scandals.

The Scandals in Which Congressmen Were Sexually Involved with Minors Other Than Pages

Democrats controlled the House of Representatives when prior sex scandals involving minors occurred. Republicans, of course, have controlled the House since 1995.

In 1978, Congressman Fred Richmond (D. NY) was arrested for soliciting sex from a sixteen-year-old African-American delivery boy, who, as it happened, was accompanied by an undercover police officer. Richmond apologized, acknowledged his bad judgment, and agreed to undergo psychiatric treatment in exchange for the dropping of charges. The House took no action. Notwithstanding efforts by his opponent to make the most of the scandal, Richmond won reelection. But his career in Congress ended four years later after he pled guilty to possession of marijuana and tax evasion and resigned. Later, when a dead body was found in his apartment, a man who had overdosed on drugs, Richmond ended up serving nine months behind bars.

In 1980, Congressman Robert Bauman (R. MD) was accused of soliciting sex from a sixteen-year-old boy, who in turn tried to extort money from the congressman in exchange for his silence. Bauman tried but failed to use his alcoholism as the explanation for his homosexual behavior. His conservative colleagues disowned him. Bauman was able to get the charges dropped but he was defeated in his reelection bid -- not for being gay, but rather for his hypocrisy: Bauman had ardently promoted family values and attacked gays. In 1986 Bauman published an autobiography: The Gentlemen from Maryland: The Conscience of a Gay Conservative. (Today, Bauman is a tax attorney.)

In 1989, Ohio authorities uncovered the sexual relationship between Congressman Donald "Buz" Lukens (R. OH), who was divorced, and Rosie Coffman, an African-American girl Lukens had sex with first when she was thirteen (in 1985), and again when she was sixteen (in 1988). An indictment followed, and in 1989, an Ohio Court convicted Lukens on a misdemeanor, contributing to the delinquency and unruliness of a child, and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. Lukens claimed he did not know the girl was a teenager. At trial, the girl testified that she and a nineteen-year-old girlfriend went to Luken's home unsolicited, and all three got in bed and had sex. The House Ethics Committee started, then stopped, an investigation -- deciding in the end that such matters should be resolved by the congressman's constituents. Lukens not only lost the May 1990 primary, but had to resign before the end of his term in January 1991: A complaint by a female elevator operator at the Capitol that Lukens had fondled her left him with no other option. (Lukens later served time in federal prison for accepting a bribe from an Ohio businessman while serving in Congress.)

Neither Fred Richmond nor Robert Bauman was formally charged with solicitation of a minor; no actual sexual activity was unearthed; and the House took no action. Buz Lukens, on the other hand, was convicted of sex with a minor -- not to mention alleged to have fondled an employee of the House -- so he was told to resign or suffer expulsion.

A Brief History of Congressmen Sexually Involved With Pages

That brings us to the small subset of Congressional sex scandals that have specifically involved pages.

The Congressional Page program has existed for over 150 years, with both the House and Senate selecting high school students to come to Washington for a semester, where they attend a special school and work as errand-runners and messengers for House and Senate members. It is a marvelous program. Overwhelmingly, those selected have been among the best and brightest of their generation; many have gone on to distinguished careers - largely stimulated by their experience in Washington.

Pages are patronage appointments, allocated by the Speaker of the House and the Senate leadership. Currently the House, which Foley's actions have forced into focus, has 72 pages -- 48 appointed by Republicans and 24 by Democrats.

Although the program itself is laudable, it has over time resulted in a number of allegations of what amounts to statutory rape. For example, in 1978, Steven R. Valentine, a former page, published a book, Each Time A Man (1978), about his experiences as a page in 1973-1974. Valentine said he knew of a homosexual Congressman who "actively sought out and apparently still seeks out homosexual relationships with minor male pages." He added, "In 1973, for instance, one House page allegedly accompanied the Congressman to Spain during one of the lengthy Congressional recesses."

More scandalous allegations relating to pages arose in 1982-83. On June 30, 1982, former page Leroy Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas told CBS News that he had engaged in illicit sexual relations with several Congressmen, and had arranged for male prostitutes to have sex with others. Then another former page, Jeff Opp of Denver, came forward to say "that he had knowledge of, but had not participated in, parties with members of Congress involving sex and cocaine."

When the New York Times spoke to Steven Valentine in July 1982, Valentine commented that "friends told him that two Congressmen had engaged in homosexual relations with pages. One Congressman [was] still serving in the House, … and the other was defeated for re-election." Without naming names, Valentine added that another Congressman was rumored to have invited pages to share an apartment rent-free in exchange for homosexual favors. Valentine said he never told the authorities because he was afraid that "some of the activities were so sordid I might be endangered if I did anything with it," and added, "I was only 18 at the time."

The Times noted that, based on Leroy Williams's accusations, the Democratic leaders of the House had immediately launched an investigation "with uncustomary speed." House leaders said they believed the charges by Williams were exaggerated, but were taking no chances, so they pressed for an inquiry, even if it was going to prove politically embarrassing.

The investigation was undertaken by the House Ethics Committee, which, in turn, appointed a special counsel, Joseph A. Califano, Jr.. Within day, it was discovered that Williams was lying. The Washington Post reported that Williams had given several different stories to investigators, not to mention the Post itself. And Williams's own lawyer, Bob Scott, told the Post that his client had failed an FBI polygraph test, badly. Not only that, Williams had a checkered history: As a page, he was suspected of drug use and of stealing another page's car. And to top off Williams's credibility problems, male prostitutes he claimed to have arranged for members of Congress told reporters that it was really Williams himself who had been their customer.

Other witnesses, however, were credible, so the investigation proceeded. After a good bit of digging, it led to Congressmen Dan Crane (R. Ill) and Gerry Studds (D. Mass). Both admitted having sex with teenage pages: Crane with a seventeen-year-old girl (in 1980), and Studds with a seventeen-year-old boy (in 1973). Because the age of consent in the District of Columbia, where the activities took place, was sixteen, neither faced criminal charges. The House Ethics Committee recommended that they be reprimanded, but not expelled. Republicans, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, demanded expulsion. In the end, the House took the middle ground and censured both men.

A tearful Crane apologized to his family and colleagues, but his Republican- dominated district's constituents voted him out of office in 1984. Studds, however, refused to apologize, and was reelected repeatedly by his largely Democratic district. In 1996, he retired voluntarily from Congress.

The Crane and Studds scandals resulted in a restructuring of the page program, meant to protect youngsters from such relationships with Members of Congress. Unfortunately, as we now know, such protection is still inadequate.

A Closer Look at the Studds Case

The Foley situation has drawn particular attention to the Studds case, because both involved male Members of Congress and male pages - and there are, indeed, some parallels, at least based on what is known of the Foley case thus far.

In the Studds case, the report of the House Ethics Committee revealed the following:

One page - who did not come forward willingly, but was named by another page - testified in his deposition that "he had visited Rep. Studds' apartment at the congressman's invitation on at least three or four occasions in 1973 and that Rep. Studds and the page had engaged in sexual activity on each of those occasions." Then, the page testified, "in late July, 1973, Rep. Studds invited him to travel abroad during the August recess. The page agreed, and the two took a 2 ½ week trip together abroad. According to the page's testimony, they engaged in sexual activity every two or three days during this trip." The page also "testified that he paid his own air fare to Europe, and a portion of the cost of meals and lodging with Rep. Studds," and that his relationship with Mr. Studds ended when they returned to the United States.

At the time, Studds was 36, and the page was 17 - and may have been 16 when the relationship began. (According to the report, two other former pages, both male also "stated under oath that Rep. Studds made sexual advances to them in 1973 while they were serving as House pages." One page was 17 at the time of the relationship; the other was 16 or 17.)

According to the report, the page who testified he had traveled with Studds also testified that shortly after he met the Congressman, he was invited to his house in Georgetown for dinner. At the dinner, the page testified, "we sat around and talked about abstract and general questions, all types and descriptions, until four in the morning, drinking vodka and cranberry juice, at which time I was told by the congressman that he was too drunk to give me a ride home and so he said, 'Why don't you sleep here?' and I did." "At that point," the report goes on, "according to the page's testimony, the congressman engaged the page in sexual activity." After that, the report says, "The page testified that the sexual relationship continued," - with "three or four" additional dinners, each of which was accompanied by "sexual activity."

The Page's Defense of the Congressman

Interestingly, while the page said he was "flattered and excited" by the Congressman's dinner invite, he denied that he felt "intimidated" by Studds. And he took pains to add that Studds "was an intelligent, witty, gentle man with I think a high level of insecurity. He did nothing to me which I would consider destructive or painful."

The page went on, "In another time, in another society, the action would be acceptable, perhaps even laudable. Unfortunately this is not the case. I have no ax to grind with him. I have nothing negative to say about the man. In fact, I thought that he provided me with one of the more wonderful experiences of my life, if we exclude the instances of sexual experience which I was somewhat uncomfortable with. But I did not think it was that big a deal."

An interesting exchange, from the pages deposition, then followed:

"Q. You said you felt uncomfortable with it, did you continue with him because he was a congressman, because he was someone you were impressed with?

"A. No. Well, I kept company with him because he was an intelligent man, a fun person to be with. If I could have had my druthers, I would have had the friendship that I had with the man without the sex. And I mentioned that to him.

The page also testified as follows that Studds did not offer him any preferential treatment or any inducement to have the relationship, nor did Studds ever threaten or coerce him. Indeed, the page testified, "Essentially all I needed to do to stop the relationship was walk out the door, or not go in the door, as the case may be."

Finally, the Ethics Committee's report noted, "The page testified that he is not homosexual and he had not had a homosexual relationship prior to his relationship with Rep. Studds."

What Is To Be Learned From this History? One Proposal Seems Wise

It is clear that members of Congress have a history of engaging in sexual activities with minors, with some voters tolerant of their behavior, others not. Given this reality, and the fact that Congressional pages have again become objects of sexual predation, it would seem time that radical changes ought to be made in the page program. Members of Congress are not elected to baby-sit, nor are they given their high offices to further their sex lives. It is time to either end the page program, as Congressman Ray LaHood has suggested, or radically reform it, for Republicans - notwithstanding their professed family values - are no better at overseeing the page program than their predecessors.

It would be thoughtless, however, to scrap the program because of the latest misbehavior by Mark Foley. If ever there has been a time to close down the program it was in 2002, when eleven pages were quietly expelled from the program after smoking dope, and bringing marijuana back to the page dormitory. But then that would have been unfair to the other pages, who had done nothing wrong.

Jonathan Turley -- a former Congressional page who is now professor of law at George Washington University School of Law -- has offered a great solution. Writing for the New York Times, Turley points out that, under the current system, pages are reluctant to come forward, and members of Congress are reluctant to investigate their own when charges are made. However, Turley notes, "[s]ome of Washington's most powerful figures in politics, media, business and the law are former pages," and "[t]hey are neither intimidated by members of Congress nor hesitant to drag a member to account. They are protective of pages and have the clout to match their concern." These are also people pages could feel at ease speaking with, for as Steven Valentine's comments show, they understand.

Professor Turley, who has many good ideas, never had a better one: It's time to create a Board of Overseers for the Congressional Page program made up of former pages. This is exactly what history, and the folly of Mr. Foley, instruct should be done. The sooner, the better.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the President.

Was this helpful?

Copied to clipboard