JOLIET, Ill. – Republican U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller, recently named one of the most corrupt members of Congress by a watchdog group, announced Friday that he will not seek an eighth term.
"I need to give my family the time needed to be a full-time dad and full-time husband," Weller said during a Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "I'm 50 years old; I've given half of my life to public service."
His announcement comes amid a swell of scrutiny. A watchdog group recently declared him one of the most corrupt members of Congress. He's fighting a subpoena in a former colleague's bribery trial, and he faces criticism that he did not reveal to Congress the extent of Nicaraguan land purchases.
Weller refused to take reporter's questions after his speech.
His trouble began when a Chicago Tribune investigation showed the congressman did not report several Nicaraguan land deals in congressional ethics statements. It said Weller reported higher purchase prices on other transactions in the U.S. than were reported in Nicaragua.
Then the Tribune reported that Weller's wife, Guatemalan congresswoman Zury Rios de Weller, had set up a nonprofit corporation in Illinois whose board also included Jerry Weller's mother, brother and business associate.
That led to questions about whether Weller should report his wife's finances to Congress. He has claimed an exemption from the rule, saying he knows nothing about her economic situation and doesn't contribute to or benefit from it.
In part because of the Nicaraguan land deals, a group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Weller on Tuesday one of the 22 most corrupt members of Congress. The same day, Weller was among 13 congressmen served subpoenas to testify for the defense in a case against a contractor accused of bribing jailed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican from California. None of the members served, including Hastert, plans to comply.
Spokesman Andy Fuller said the decision had nothing to do with the criticism Weller was facing. Fuller said the decision was made in late spring or early summer and that Weller planned to make the announcement in September or early October to give other candidates time to campaign for the seat before the February primary.
Weller's retirement means the GOP will have to fight next year for three seats in the Illinois delegation currently held by long-serving Republicans. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Yorkville, and Rep. Ray LaHood of Peoria announced earlier this year they will step down.
For a state that has voted Democratic in the past four presidential elections, that would seem to spell trouble for Republicans.
But state Sen. Christine Radogno, a Republican from Lemont who has said she would consider a run if Weller stepped aside, said voters are dissatisfied with Democratic leadership in Springfield that forced a record overtime legislative session this summer.