By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY
It could be a rough night for members of the House of Representatives who are rolling into Election Day with scandals hovering over their campaigns.
About a dozen incumbents from both major parties this election season tried to fight off serious issues in their campaigns, from ethics violations to offshore gambling problems that tainted close relatives.
"Some have done a better job than others," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group.
Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., is a prime example of what can happen when a scandal turns into a campaign issue. In August, the House officially reprimanded the three-term congresswoman for forcing her congressional staff to do campaign work, and fined her $10,000.
Richardson is facing another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Janice Hahn, after redistricting threw them into the same district this year. Hahn has enjoyed other advantages in the race, including the backing of the California Democratic Party, but she didn't resist highlighting her opponent's ethics troubles.
"One of the main differences between us is, of course, she ... has been reprimanded for ethical violations," Hahn told KABC-TV in Los Angeles last month.
Ethics troubles have also cut into fundraising for some candidates.
In Miami, Republican Rep. David Rivera has been battling federal and state investigations throughout his first term in Congress. Last month, a state ethics commission found that Rivera broke 11 ethics laws while he was serving in the state legislature.
That left Rivera, who is running in a heavily Republican district, trailing his Democratic opponent, Joe Garcia, throughout the campaign. While Garcia raised more than $875,000, made appearances with President Obama and got help from former president Bill Clinton, Rivera raised a little under $550,000 and was not on stage with his local Republican colleagues during recent visits to South Florida by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
While Garcia insisted that he was focused on issues such as the economy and Medicare during the campaign, he made sure to remind voters of Rivera's ethics troubles.
"There's a grand jury empaneled. There are FBI agents interviewing people and state attorney folks interviewing people," Garcia said in September during an interview with WFOR-TV in Miami. "What we're trying to do in our campaign is talk about the issues of the district."
Even family problems can come back to haunt candidates.
Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., has been in his House seat since 1997, but a gambling scandal that led to a short prison term for his wife is jeopardizing his spot in Congress. Patrice Tierney was sentenced to 30 days in jail in January 2011 after pleading guilty to charges that she helped her brother conceal income from an illegal offshore gambling business.
John Tierney insisted he knew nothing of the gambling operation. But Tierney's opponent, Republican Richard Tisei, took full advantage. Tisei ran an ad featuring supposed voters who once favored Tierney, but had changed their minds. "Now I feel that he's a person that couldn't be trusted," said one unidentified man. "He's definitely lying," said another.
Tisei used the question marks surrounding Tierney to outraise him in a heavily Democratic district $2 million to $1.9 million.
Some may survive. Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., rode a career as an undercover agent for the FBI to a House seat representing Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in 2011. But in September, The New York Post reported that federal prosecutors were investigating a former business partner of Grimm for ties with the Gambino crime family. Grimm's lawyer told the paper Grimm had no knowledge of his former partner's associates.
News of the investigation got his Democratic opponent moving. Grimm raised nearly three times more than Democrat Mark Murphy. But from July to September, Murphy outraised Grimm $323,421 to $253,066.
And the ads followed. In one Murphy ad, a series of women raise questions about Grimm, wondering why he's involved "with all of these shady characters."
"I don't know what's worse -- the scandals here at home, or what he's been up to in Washington," said another.
Sloan said this year's scandal-ridden candidates face a tougher road than in past years. In 2006, for example, many campaigns tried to tie members of Congress to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges, and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was facing money-laundering charges in connection with a campaign finance investigation.
"There were so many members involved in the same kind of bad conduct then," Sloan said. "Now, each person's scandal is separate and on their own."