Rep. Dan Burton (R)
Elected: 1982, 14th term.
Born: June 21, 1938, Indianapolis .
Education: IN U., 1958-59, Cincinnati Bible Seminary, 1959-60.
Family: Married (Samia); 4 children.
Military career: Army, 1956–57, Army Reserves, 1957–62.
Elected office: IN House of Reps., 1966–68, 1976–80; IN Senate, 1968–70, 1980–82.
Professional Career: Real estate broker; Founder, Dan Burton Insurance Agency, 1968.
The congressman from the 5th District is Dan Burton, a Republican first elected to the House in 1982. He has been running for office since he was in his 20s. Burton had a horrific childhood. His father was abusive and left the family; his mother worked as a waitress and bought the kids’ clothes at Goodwill. His father ultimately kidnapped his mother and went to jail, and the kids were sent to the county home. “I think part of my aggressive nature is because of my childhood,” Burton told author Studs Terkel in an interview for Hope Dies Last. “The highest moment of hope in my childhood was when we finally got away from my father. When I was five, six years old, my mother used to stand between me and him when he’d start to beat me and take the blows. I was black and blue from my neck to my ankles.” As a teenager, Burton earned money shining shoes and at age 18 enlisted in the Army. He never finished college but was successful as a real estate broker and insurance salesman. He also ran for public office, often losing but not giving up. He was finally elected to the Indiana House in 1966 and to the Indiana Senate in 1968. He lost races for Congress in 1970 and 1972, but won a seat in 1982 when the GOP-controlled Legislature created a heavily Republican suburban seat.
|Dan Burton (R)||234,705||(66%)||($1,810,296)|
|Mary Etta Ruley (D)||123,357||(34%)||($18,624)|
|Dan Burton (R)||45,682||(52%)|
|John McGoff (R)||39,701||(45%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (65%), 2004 (72%), 2002 (72%), 2000 (70%), 1998 (72%), 1996 (75%), 1994 (77%), 1992 (72%), 1990 (63%), 1988 (73%), 1986 (68%), 1984 (73%), 1982 (65%)
For years, Burton was regarded by many Democrats as a gadfly, excitedly pursuing lost causes. He once pushed for universal, mandatory AIDS testing. During the Clinton era, he long insisted that the suicide of White House counsel Vince Foster was a murder, and staged a reenactment in his backyard, using a gun and a pumpkin or watermelon–it was never clear which. For years, he has investigated the link between thimerosal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative, and autism, firm in his belief that his grandson’s autism was caused by thimerosal. He has held hearings on vaccine safety and pressed for the removal of thimerosal. In 2004, he called the Institutes of Medicine “pawns for the pharmaceutical industry” when researchers reported finding no link between thimerosal and autism. His position puts him at odds with one of his district’s major employers, Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., the company that developed thimerosal. Some 5,000 Lilly employees live in the district, and he has received no contributions from Lilly’s political action committee since 2002.
But Burton is nothing if not fearless and often goes his own way in the face of pressure from GOP leaders to toe the line. He is an enthusiastic supporter of alternative medicine, and he favors importation of prescription drugs from Canada. He was one of only 25 Republican House members who voted against the creation of a prescription-drug benefit in Medicare in 2003, reasoning that the multi-billion-dollar benefit would cost the government too much. In 2007, Burton sided with Democrats to support giving the government power to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, a proposal staunchly opposed by most Republicans and by big companies like Eli Lilly. Some of his views on health care policy have evolved from his personal experience: Burton’s wife died of cancer in 2002, and four years later, he married her doctor.
Burton has had some significant legislative successes, but his biggest achievement was the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Drafted in response to the Cuban Air Force’s downing of American planes, it stated that foreign companies could be sued in American courts if, as part of business deals with former Cuba Leader Fidel Castro’s regime, they took over property expropriated from American owners. The low point of his congressional career was probably the tumultuous hearings he conducted into campaign-finance irregularities by the Clinton presidential campaign from 1997 to 2000. Burton was then chairman of the Government Reform Committee, and he promised bipartisan hearings. But they turned out to be quite partisan. Burton sealed that impression when he described Clinton to the Indianapolis Star in 1998: “This guy’s a scumbag,” he said. “That’s why I’m after him.”
Burton faced great resistance—some 90 witnesses took the Fifth Amendment or left the country—and perhaps even retaliation. In July 1997, the Federal Bureau of Investigation subpoenaed his finance records of his House campaigns. Burton worked doggedly to get internal White House documents dealing with campaign fundraising, and he was still seeking them in 2002, after the Bush administration came to power and claimed executive privilege. In another case, Burton tried to get internal Justice Department documents about an FBI scandal in which agents might have covered up evidence of crime by mobster informants in Boston from the 1960s to the 1980s and allowed an innocent man to go to jail for 30 years. Citing that case, he has called for taking former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s name off the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. His efforts to get those documents were opposed by the Bush administration, and he harshly criticized a 2001 Bush executive order that limited access to current and previous White House documents and records.
Because of Republican term limits on chairmen, Burton had to relinquish the Government Reform chairmanship in January 2003. He turned his focus to the Foreign Affairs Committee, where he had enough seniority to become chairman of the South Asia Subcommittee. Republican leaders judged Burton too compromised by his staunch support for Pakistan and denied him the gavel. Four years later, in 2007, Burton was in line to become chairman of the full committee, but leaders passed him over again and gave the job to the less senior Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. In 2009, he seemed to have redeemed himself with GOP leaders, who stood aside while Burton became the ranking Republican on the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee. In 2007, Burton called for a closer U.S. friendship with Brazil, and opposed attempts to reduce U.S. aid to the country. He also warned against a “precipitous pullout” of troops from Iraq.
For all the negative press he has generated over his career in Congress, Burton won 14 terms mostly without difficulty—even after it was revealed in 1998 that he had fathered an illegitimate son some 15 years earlier. At the time of the revelations, Burton was being highly critical of Clinton’s extramarital dalliances. The woman had not notified Burton at the time of the child’s birth. When he found out, he took a blood test to confirm paternity and began to pay child support.
In 2008, he faced a serious primary challenger. John McGoff, a former Air Force flight surgeon in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Marion County Coroner, initially took advantage of negative publicity surrounding Burton’s decision to skip 19 House votes to play in a Palm Springs golf tournament in 2007. McGoff ran as a reformer, promising to make public all of his meetings with special-interest groups. Burton apologized for his missed votes and blamed the news media for his problems. He spent $1.5 million to McGoff’s $473,000 and won 52% to 45%. McGoff took the biggest counties, winning 55% in Hamilton and 59% in Marion; the two counties cast 55% of the total. But Burton won all of the outlying counties, some by 2-to-1 or better. He defeated a token opponent in the general election, 66%-34%. The result left Burton vulnerable to another primary challenge in 2010.