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Life of the
On to the
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PORTRAIT OF A POLITICAL "PIT BULL"
2, 3, 4
Anyone familiar with Burton's childhood experience might have assumed that he would be an advocate for single mothers and children from abusive backgrounds. Yet Burton has always cited his own pulled-up-by-the-bootstraps success as proof that entitlements are a waste of money. The way to really help children, he has said, is not to provide social services, but to cut the budget deficit. In blazing such a contrarian path, Burton was establishing a pattern that would define his political career: denying and even attacking people and issues that most mirrored his own life.
Burton, the family-values champion, has been married for 38 years, but he is known to have a marked weakness for attractive women. "All of the important people know the truth about Burton and pretend he's upstanding," says Harrison Ullmann, a former Indianapolis Star reporter who edits NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis's alternative paper. After Burton's September admission that he had fathered an illegitimate child, Dick Cady wrote in the Indianapolis Star, "During part of the 1970s and '80s, Dan Burton was known as the biggest skirt-chaser in the Indiana legislature ... Privately, some of his fellow Republicans expressed embarrassment. Lobbyists whispered about the stories of Burton's escapades. Statehouse reporters joked about him. Yet no one ever wrote about, or probably thought about writing anything. To the people who sent him first to the legislature and then to Congress, Burton was Mr. Conservative, the devout husband and father who espoused family values."
Cady recently dug up a report from 1980 of the Indianapolis Press Club's "roasting" of Burton, which included the following jokes about the then-state senator:
"He wants to become the District of Columbia's first senator. Why, you ask? Because someone told him that three-quarters of a million people in Washington go to bed each night without a senator."
"For a man who claims to be such a moralist, Danny does have a reputation as a ladies' man. He is all for life, liberty and the happiness of pursuit."
"He likes to get out there and see sin up close."
From the time of Burton's election to Indiana's General Assembly in 1966 at the age of 28 to his departure for Washington 16 years later, there were a number of alleged incidents involving women -- stories not only of philandering, but also of an established pattern of sexual harassment. "Everybody who was around him at the Statehouse and everyone who knows him at all says the same thing: God, how did Dan Burton get away with this?" grumbles a female Statehouse lobbyist.
"None of the [female] staff wanted to be caught in a hall with him," recalls retired Indiana legislator Hurley Goodall, a Democrat who served with Burton until 1983, when Burton left for Washington. "Then, when he ran for reelection and they had a picture of his family in the paper, everybody wanted to puke." One woman, a former staff attorney for the Indiana legislature, recalls being with Burton one day after hours: "He put his hand on the back of my neck and said, 'Would your husband, your boyfriend, be upset about you being here late with me tonight?'" Just then, she says, a male staffer appeared -- "bless his heart," the woman added.
A man who worked for the GOP in the state legislature says Burton propositioned his daughter when she was a secretary there. "She was very upset," the man recalls. "I said to him, 'Dan, I would appreciate it if nothing more like that happened.'"
Virginia Blankenbaker, a former Republican state senator (Burton attended a fund-raiser for her recent, unsuccessful bid for a neighboring congressional seat), says that her late husband, who was director of public safety for Indianapolis, told her of numerous Burton problems, and she recalls one of her own. "One of my interns -- I don't remember if she also worked for him -- was flattered when he invited her to dinner at the end of the session in 1981 or 1982, and then was most embarrassed when he propositioned her," she remembers. "It's bizarre he's so outspoken on moral issues." The former intern, Judith Murden, now a federal employee, would confirm only that Burton had commented on her appearance, suggesting that she had rebuffed an advance, and noting that "nothing goes anywhere if there is a red light."
Other Hoosier women seethe with anger over Burton's hypocrisy. "I know wise men who in political life have had affairs," says Beth Green, a retired civil servant for the Indiana legislature who knew Burton. "There are many whom I think handle those relationships with respect. Perhaps there are mutual benefits. And, yeah, it's OK what they do. But I do care when they're up there preaching family values. My feeling is that [Burton] is not sincere about anything."
One woman who worked for an Indiana government agency and saw Burton frequently at political events remembers that when she was in her early 20s Burton came on to her in a "friendly" way by inviting her for a drink. They did not have a relationship, only a "one-night stand ... at my place," because "I suspect that he was worried that I was going to say something to somebody else in politics, and I didn't," she recalled. "It has been a source of both irritation and amusement to me over the years to hear him campaign and tout himself as having such strong family values and being such a defender of the conservative point of view, because I think, 'This is so much bullshit. What a hypocrite!' Even though I am a registered Republican and have been all my life and have worked both formally and informally on political campaigns, my favorite candidate is whoever is running against him."
In 1983 Burton put an Indianapolis woman, Rebecca Hyatt, on his Washington congressional staff as "assistant to the administrative assistant." Hyatt, according to a former boyfriend, James Rutledge, said that Burton had pressured her into an affair when she baby-sat for the family. "She said, 'I've got a problem at work. Dan wants me to have sex with him. He keeps bugging me every day,'" recalled Rutledge, who dated Hyatt in the early 1980s. After she and Burton began an affair, Rutledge said, "He took her up there [to Washington]. He promised her a job, everything." Hyatt's ex-husband, Byron Hyatt, says she told him of the affair with her boss. When contacted recently, Rebecca Hyatt, who left Burton's staff in the mid-1980s, said, "I don't talk to reporters."
Jeannie Blair, a registered Republican, recalls still another Burton episode, in the mid-'80s. The woman in question was Blair's next-door neighbor, for whom Blair baby-sat. On one occasion, Blair accompanied the woman to Louisville, en route to picking up the children elsewhere, and, she says, Burton followed in his car. Blair says she took a motel room, while Burton and her neighbor took the one next door. On another occasion, while at a bar with the couple, Blair said Burton "brought some other guy along [because] maybe I might like him," even though the congressman knew she was married. She declined the opportunity. Blair's former neighbor confirmed that she had known Blair well, and that she had worked on Burton campaigns, but denied having an affair with the congressman.
Bill Smith, who served as Burton's chief of staff in the 1980s and now runs the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative "family advocacy" organization dedicated to discouraging divorce, says that while canvassing door-to-door in Burton's 1982 congressional campaign, he met a woman who told him that she would not vote for Burton because he was a "womanizer." Smith says he immediately approached Burton and asked him about it. Burton, he recalls, replied: "Well, you know, a few years ago Barb and I separated. There was a good chance we were gonna get divorced. And during that time, I dated."
Smith says that he accepted Burton's explanation until three years later, when a pastor in Washington approached him "along the same lines. And my response to him was, 'Oh, I've talked to Dan about that. And here's the situation.' But just hearing it again troubled me and I went back to Dan." Burton claimed that it was just the same story being recirculated.
In the early 1990s a Planned Parenthood delegation visited Washington to lobby members of Congress and paid a courtesy call on Burton, even though they knew he was unsympathetic to their cause. They expected to meet with a staff member. Instead, Burton himself bounded out and escorted the three lobbyists into a tiny inner office. "This was almost a closet," says one participant, a middle-aged woman and a Republican. "There was a lot of junk around ... and there was maybe one chair, and he pulled in another chair, and there was the sofa that sat practically on the floor. It was uncomfortable for all of us. And he came in and was talking to us about his years at the seminary."
Soon thereafter, the trio took their leave, with Burton standing in the doorway so that each had to pass him. As she tried to exit, "he grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I thought that he was just angry (about our discussion). I was there maybe 30 seconds, and he had his hands up my skirt so fast I didn't even know what was coming." The woman says she was able to stop Burton's hand before it reached its target.
The two male lobbyists from Planned Parenthood accompanying the woman, Randy Price and Dr. John Peterson, did not see the alleged groping incident. But they recalled being surprised that so many of Burton's staff seemed to be young, attractive women, wearing short skirts, who were seemingly unprepared and uninformed about the issues they were supposedly responsible for. The lobbyists say they were especially shocked to interrupt one male staffer under a desk aiming a camera up a young female staffer's skirt. When the lobbyists expressed their astonishment at the scene, the staffers explained that they were merely checking to see whether an unscrupulous person could take photographs up a woman's skirt undetected. Price added that he heard Burton make inappropriately graphic sexual remarks to one of the young women staffers.
An additional serious issue for Burton is his close relationship with a former model, Claudia Keller, who until recently was his campaign manager, a position she carried out from the Dan Burton for Congress campaign office, located in her Indianapolis home -- which is outside his congressional district. Although the nondescript ranch-style house in a residential area bears no external signs, Burton has paid from $2,400 to $4,000 a year in rent for it since 1991, according to his campaign disclosure forms. In addition, Burton pays Keller an annual salary of more than $40,000, as well as expenses and bonuses of several thousand dollars; regular payments totaling $2,500 in 1993 to a business called Buttons & Bows (not listed in the Indianapolis telephone directory, but identified on Burton's forms as being located at Keller's address) for her appearances as a clown at campaign events; and an annual salary of more $10,000 to Elizabeth Keller, Claudia Keller's sister, who lived a block away. Burton's campaign has also made payments to Claudia Keller's daughter, aunt and ex-husband. In addition to the full-time campaign salary, Keller has also received a salary for part-time employment in Burton's congressional district office. Last fall, a Burton spokesman had trouble explaining what Keller's job entailed; he said he would need to look into it.
Burton's frequent visits to Keller's home were ostensibly to discuss business, though he often arrived dressed as if he were headed to the golf course, according to Denise Range, a neighbor, and was sometimes greeted at the door by Keller wearing a teddy. Melissa Bickel, another neighbor, recalls that Keller would often send her daughter over to their house when Burton came calling, which she says was as often as three or four times a week.
According to Keller's neighbors, when Burton arrived, Keller would move her car so Burton could pull into the driveway, after which she would pull in directly behind him, as if to block the license plate. This struck them as odd because there was abundant street parking in the residential area.
In a recent conversation, Bickel says, Keller's daughter told her that Burton "was worried about all this stuff with Clinton, that he would get people to start investigating him. And I said, 'He's done the same things, so he should be worried about it.'"
As a result of inquiries, a U.S. attorney in Indiana has reportedly expressed interest in exploring ghost employment on Burton's congressional payroll. After Burton was reelected in November, Keller moved to Washington to join his staff there, where she now works as his "scheduler," according to a Burton spokesperson.
For the past decade, Burton has exhibited an unusual pattern: Though he has had no serious opposition, he has paid campaign salaries every single month, even in non-election years, to two people: Claudia Keller and Sharon Delph. Delph knew Burton back in high school, and served as secretary to Burton when he was president of the Young Republicans in the 1960s. When Delph's ex-husband, who maintains regular contact with her, was asked what she did for her regular Burton campaign salary, he expressed amazement she was being paid at all, noting that she has a full-time job in a bank. Her son, Michael, whom Burton recommended for graduate school and hired onto his Washington staff as a key aide immediately upon his graduation, also said he was unaware that his mother received a regular paycheck from Burton's campaign. Delph herself declined to comment on what she does for the Burton campaign.
An extensive review of Burton's campaign reports for recent years reveals frequent reimbursements to Burton himself, totaling many thousands of dollars, for unidentified expenses for travel, meetings, hotels and the like.
Given how relentlessly Burton has criticized Clinton, it comes as
something of a surprise to find out what he really thinks of the
president. A friend of Burton's, Bob Mahowald, says that in private Burton
has called Clinton the best politician he's ever seen, and indicated that
he likes him personally. Others agree. "I would bet anything that Danny
Burton could tee it up with Bill Clinton tomorrow and be just the most
friendly, charming fellow you'd ever want to come across," says Louis
Mahern, a lobbyist who served in the Indiana state Senate for 16 years,
some of those alongside Burton. "You remember in 'The Godfather,' when
they find out that Sal Tessio has been double-dealing, they're gonna take
him out and shoot him, and Tessio says, 'Tell Mike it was only business. I
always liked him.' You know, I think that's Danny's attitude (toward
Clinton). I mean, I don't think he means anything personal by this."
Russ Baker is an award-winning New York City
investigative journalist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the
Los Angeles Times and the Columbia Journalism Review.
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