Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The House Ethics Committee began an investigation into accusations that certain members of the U.S. Congress were engaging in sexual relations with teenage House pages. Although the committee found no wrongdoing during the period in question, it did find that two representatives, Gerry Studds in 1973 and Daniel Crane in 1980, had consensual but inappropriate relationships with pages. Both members were censured by Congress.

Summary of Event

The House Page Program, for students in their junior year of high school, is an immersion program that introduces students to the day-to-day workings of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pages, who live in Washington, D.C., during their residency in the program, run errands for House members, assist with telephone calls in the cloakroom, and assist on the House floor as needed. In addition to working on Capitol Hill as paid employees of the House, pages also attend early-morning classes. [kw]Sex Scandal, Congress Members Censured in House-Page (July 20, 1983) Studds, Gerry Crane, Daniel O’Neill, Tip Congress, U.S.;page sex scandal Page sex scandal Studds, Gerry Crane, Daniel O’Neill, Tip Congress, U.S.;page sex scandal Page sex scandal [g]United States;July 20, 1983: Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal[02050] [c]Sex crimes;July 20, 1983: Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal[02050] [c]Sex;July 20, 1983: Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal[02050] [c]Government;July 20, 1983: Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal[02050] [c]Drugs;July 20, 1983: Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal[02050] [c]Families and children;July 20, 1983: Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal[02050] [c]Public morals;July 20, 1983: Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal[02050] Stokes, Louis

The program has been in place for more than two hundred years, though the House as an institution has changed. About seventy-two pages serve in a given year. The program is administered by the clerk of the House, and daily activities are overseen by staff of the residence hall and school and by work staff. At the program’s inception, only males were allowed to serve as pages, but females earned a permanent place in the program in 1973.

Gerry Studds in 1995.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Until the early 1980’s, pages were responsible for finding their own lodging and were largely unsupervised after leaving work. In 1982, however, a page commission recommended creating a residence hall near Capitol Hill for all pages so they could be properly supervised. Concurrently, the commission also recommended the establishment of a page board composed of current members of the House, “to ensure that the Page program is conducted in a manner that is consistent with the efficient functioning of the House and welfare of the Pages.”

In 1982, a former House page claimed he had sexual relationships with three members of Congress. Speculation soon arose that Congress members also were involved in drug deals with pages. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched an investigation into the accusations. Several pages who were interviewed said they had feared their jobs would be in jeopardy had they not consented to the relationships.

After learning of the FBI investigation, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and Representative Louis Stokes, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, launched a congressional investigation into the accusations. The committee found that the former page’s accusations were ungrounded, and investigators found no inappropriate behavior between members and pages during the 1981-1982 page cycle, the time period on which the investigation centered. Also dismissed were accusations about drug use.

The committee did find, however, that two representatives had been sexually involved with pages prior to the time in question. Neither politician broke the law, however, because sixteen years old is the age of consent in Washington, D.C. In 1973, Gerry Studds had been in a consensual relationship with a seventeen-year-old male page. The youth was invited to Studds’s Georgetown apartment and traveled with him during a two-week vacation to Portugal. When confronted with the charges in 1982, Studds admitted to the affair, stating that he had made a “very serious error in judgment.” He made a public statement, in which he came out as gay and stated that he should not have engaged in a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

Representative Daniel Crane also had an affair with a seventeen-year-old page, a girl, in 1980. She had visited his apartment multiple times and testified that she was “perhaps more responsible for the sexual relationship than he was.” While the relationship was consensual, Crane tearfully apologized for his behavior but said he did not violate his oath of office. The Ethics Committee recommended on July 14, 1983, that the two Congress members be formally reprimanded, but the full House pushed for a more serious punishment: Studds and Crane were censured by the House on July 20.

Studds and Crane ran for reelection in 1984. Crane won the Republican primary for his district but ultimately lost his seat to Terry Bruce in the general election. Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, won the 1984 Democratic primary and the general election and served in the House until 1997. Crane returned to dentistry after his defeat in 1984. Studds married his long-time partner in 2004, just one week after the state of Massachusetts legalized marriage between persons of the same gender. Studds died two years later from a pulmonary embolism.

Impact

The page scandal led Speaker O’Neill to form a page commission in 1982 to reevaluate the program. Many questioned why the program was still operating and whether it should be retired, and changes were suggested in an effort to protect the pages and better serve the House membership. Pages now live in a residence hall located several blocks from the Capitol Building (pages formerly resided at the Old Congressional Hotel). This provides better supervision of the minors when they are not at work. A page board also was instituted, consisting of two Congress members from the majority party, one member from the minority party, the clerk of the House, and the House sergeant-at-arms. An official Page Program code of conduct also was developed, allowing for the immediate dismissal of any page found in violation of program rules.

The allegations of inappropriate contact between members of Congress and House pages did not cease following the findings of the Ethics Committee in the case of Crane and Studds. In 2006, scandal rocked Capitol Hill as Representative Mark Foley resigned amid allegations of sending sexually explicit electronic communications (e-mail and instant messages) to former House pages. House leadership came under fire for the way it dealt with previous reports of questionable behavior by Foley, leading to the early retirement of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert in November, 2007. The page board had been expanded in early 2007 to address ongoing concerns with the program and attempt to prevent similar sex scandals.

In December, the House Page Program came under scrutiny again when two Republican members of the page board resigned. Both board members stated that the clerk of the House did not notify them immediately of inappropriate page conduct. In this case, four pages—two for shoplifting and two for inappropriate sexual activity—had been expelled from the program during the fall, 2007, semester. House leadership was criticized once again for not disclosing all evidence presented to the page board. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, like others before her, called for an investigation into the charges and for further evaluation of the program. Studds, Gerry Crane, Daniel O’Neill, Tip Congress, U.S.;page sex scandal Page sex scandal

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amer, Mildred. “Pages of the United States Congress: History, Background Information, and Proposals for Change.” CRS Report for Congress, February 6, 2007. Describes the page program and highlights changes that have been made or proposed since the Mark Foley scandal in 2006.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Capitol Scandal.” Time, July 12, 1982. Documents the reaction of Congress to the FBI investigation into possible scandals involving House pages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Housecleaning.” Time, July 5, 1983. Reports on the investigation by the House into allegations of inappropriate conduct between pages and House members. Includes apologies from Daniel Crane and Gerry Studds.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Long, Kim. The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals, and Dirty Politics. New York: Delacorte Press, 2007. A wide-ranging book detailing the various scandals and corrupt practices that have plagued U.S. politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roberts, Robert North. Ethics in U.S. Government: An Encyclopedia of Investigations, Scandals, Reforms, and Legislation. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. A comprehensive encyclopedia documenting political scandals, ethical controversies, and investigations in the U.S. government between 1775 and 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turley, Jonathan. “A Page Protection Act: The Path to Saving a Historic Program.” Roll Call, October 5, 2006. Written by a page alum and legal professor. Addresses the problems with the current page board and steps that should be taken to maintain the program.

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