Barney Frank

Barnett "Barney" Frank (born March 31, 1940) is an American politician and a member of the United States House of Representatives. He is a Democrat and has represented Massachusetts since 1981. The district includes many of Boston's southern suburbs — such as Brookline, Newton, and Foxborough — as well as the South Coast.

Following the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2006 midterm elections, Frank assumed the chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee.

Early life

Frank was born to a Jewish family in Bayonne, New Jersey and was educated at Harvard College, where he resided in Kirkland House and then Winthrop House, graduating in 1962. He taught undergraduates at Harvard while studying for a Ph.D., but left in 1968, before completing that degree, to become the Chief Assistant to Mayor Kevin White of Boston, a position he held for three years. He then served for one year as Administrative Assistant to Congressman Michael J. Harrington.

In 1972, Frank was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served for eight years. During that time, he entered Harvard Law School and graduated in 1977.

While in state and local government, Frank taught part-time at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Boston University. He published numerous articles on politics and public affairs, and in 1992 he published Speaking Frankly, an essay on the role the Democratic Party should play in the 1990s.

National politics

In 1979, Frank became a member of the Massachusetts Bar. A year later, he won the Democratic nomination for the seat of Father Robert Drinan, who had left Congress following a call by Pope John Paul II for priests to withdraw from political positions. In 1982, redistricting forced him to run against Republican Margaret Heckler. The newly configured district retained Frank's district number — the 4th — but was geographically more Heckler's district. Initially a heavy underdog, he focused on Heckler's initial support for President Ronald Reagan's tax cuts, and won by 20 percentage points. He hasn't faced credible opposition since, and has been reelected 12 times. The Republicans have not fielded an opponent against him since 2002.

File:1981 Barney Frank p62.jpg

1981, Congressional Pictorial Directory - Frank's first term as Congressman

Frank is one of the most liberal members of the House, and has been outspoken on many civil rights issues, including gay rights. In 1987, he spoke publicly about his homosexuality for the first time. He said in a 1996 interview: "I'm used to being in the minority. I'm a left-handed gay Jew. I've never felt, automatically, a member of any majority."


In 1990, the House voted to reprimand Frank when it was revealed that Steve Gobie, a male escort whom Frank had befriended after hiring him through a personal advertisement, claimed to have conducted an escort service from Frank's apartment when he was not at home. Frank had dismissed Gobie earlier that year and reported the incident to the House Ethics Committee after learning of Gobie's activities. After an investigation, the House Ethics Committee found no evidence that Frank had known of or been involved in the alleged illegal activity.[1] Regarding Gobie's more scandalous claims the report by the Ethics Committee concluded, "In numerous instances where an assertion made by Mr. Gobie (either publicly or during his Committee deposition) was investigated for accuracy, the assertion was contradicted by third-party sworn testimony or other evidence of Mr. Gobie himself."[2]

The New York Times reported on July 20, 1990 that the House Ethics Committee recommended "that Representative Barney Frank receive a formal reprimand from the House for his relationship with a male prostitute."[3] Attempts to expel or censure Frank, led by Republican member Larry Craig (who himself was later embroiled in his own scandal) failed.[4][5] Rather, the House voted 408-18 to reprimand him.[6] This condemnation was not reflected in Frank's district, where he won re-election in 1990 with 66 percent of the vote, and has won by larger margins ever since.

Quips and controversies

In 1995, then-Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey referred to Frank as "Barney Fag" in a press interview. Armey apologized and said it was "a slip of the tongue". Frank did not accept Armey's explanation, and responded, "I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag."[7]

In 1998, he founded the National Stonewall Democrats, the national gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Democratic organization. In 2004 and again in 2006, a survey of Capitol Hill staffers published in Washingtonian gave Frank the title of the "brainiest", "funniest", and "most eloquent" member of the House.[8] As of May 2007, Frank is one of two openly gay members of Congress, the other being Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Frank is known for his witty, self-deprecating sense of humor. He once famously quipped that he was unable to complete his review of the Starr Report detailing President Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, complaining that it was "too much reading about heterosexual sex".[9]

Frank is also noted for his occasionally caustic remarks about Republicans. In a June 2007 New England Cable News interview, Frank said of Mitt Romney: "The real Romney is clearly an extraordinarily ambitious man with no perceivable political principle whatsoever. He is the most intellectually dishonest human being in the history of politics."[10]

In June 2008, Frank pushed a bill through the House Natural Resources Committee that would designate an industrialized section of Massachusetts' Taunton River as a "wild and scenic river". The 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was intended to protect "outstandingly remarkable" ecosystems. Critics argued that Frank was abusing the act, pointing out that the section of the river in Fall River was congested with fuel storage tanks, container docks, warehouses, and industrial piers. They argued that Frank's real motivation was his opposition to a proposed natural gas terminal.[11]

On July 16, 2008, while chairing a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, Frank said, "No one expects equality. Equality is not a good thing, and you can't have an economy that works if everything is equal. But too much inequality also has negative consequences."[12]

Political positions

In Congress, Frank is an ardent supporter of medical marijuana. He was the author of the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act (H.R. 2592), an attempt to stop federal government from intervening with states' medical marijuana laws.[13] Frank consistently voted for the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, annually proposed by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), that would prohibit Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana patients.[14] As of March 2008, he is trying to pass the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008 (HR 5843), which would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.[15]

Frank has also been a critic of aspects of the Federal Reserve system, partnering with some Republicans in this opposition.[16] Frank says that he and Republican Congressman Ron Paul "first bonded because we were both conspicuous nonworshipers at the Temple of the Fed and of the High Priest [Alan] Greenspan.”[16]

Frank has also partnered with Paul in support of online gambling rights. In 2006, both strongly opposed H.R. 4777, the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act,[17] and H.R. 4411, the Goodlatte-Leach Internet Gambling Prohibition Act.[18] To restore online gambling rights, in 2007 Frank sponsored H.R. 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act.[19] This bill would have established licensing and regulation of online gaming sites. It provided for age verification and protections for compulsive gamblers. In 2008, he and Paul introduced H.R. 5767, the Payment Systems Protection Act, a bill that sought to place a moratorium on enforcement of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act while the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve defined "unlawful Internet gambling". As a result of these efforts, Frank (who does not gamble) has become a hero to poker players and online gamblers, including many Republicans.[20]

In 2006, Frank was one of only three Representatives to oppose the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which restricted protests (notably those of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church) at soldiers' funerals. He opposed the bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate, on civil liberties and constitutional grounds. Frank said of the vote, "I think it’s very likely to be found unconstitutional. It’s true that when you defend civil liberties you are typically defending people who do obnoxious things... You play into their hand when you let them provoke you into overdoing it. I don’t want these thugs to [make the] claim [that] America is hypocritical."[21]

The Frank Rule

Frank's blunt stance on outing certain gay Republicans has become well-publicized, dubbed "The Frank Rule" — that it is acceptable to out a closeted gay person, if that person uses their power or notoriety to hurt gay people.[22] The issue became especially relevant during the Mark Foley page scandal of 2006, during which Frank clarified his position on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher:

I think there's a right to privacy. But the right to privacy should not be a right to hypocrisy. And people who want to demonize other people shouldn't then be able to go home and close the door and do it themselves.[23]


  1. Media Matters for America article, October 5, 2006, which cites the 'Boston Globe, 7/27/1990, as well as the Ethics Committee's report, 7/20/1990.
  2. Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Page 37
  3. Richard L. Berke, New York Times, "Formal Reprimand of Rep. Frank Is Urged by House's Ethics Panel", July 20, 1990. Retrieved November 29, 2006.
  4. "What to do about Barney Frank // Congress faces nasty confrontation on handling sexual misconduct", Rowland Evans, Robert Novak. Austin American Statesman. Austin, Tex.: Oct 17, 1989. pg. A.8 Word spread through the GOP cloakroom that Rep. Larry Craig of Idaho was standing firm inside the Ethics Committee.
  5. "Frank reprimanded for aiding prostitute" Elaine S. Povich, Chicago Tribune Chicago, Ill.: Jul 27, 1990. pg. 4 The ethics committee, officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, had unanimously recommended that Frank be reprimanded and Frank did not contest the charge. But the committee was severely split, took months to make up its mind on the punishment, and during the vote Thursday three GOP members of the panel — Reps. Thomas Petri of Wisconsin, Larry Craig of Idaho and Jim Hansen of Utah — voted for censure, the more severe sanction.
  7. Rich, Frank (February 2, 1995), “Journal; Closet Clout”, The New York Times, <> 
  8. "Best and Worst of Congress", 01 September 2006. Retrieved November 29, 2006.
  9. Frank Part of Starr Review. PlanetOut Inc. (1998-09-09). Retrieved on 2007-10-25.
  11. Mr. Frank's Wild River -
  12. Lexis-nexis transcript of the hearing
  15., "Barney Frank: Let's decriminalize marijuana"
  16. 16.0 16.1 Caldwell, Christopher (2007-07-22). The Antiwar, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Drug-Enforcement-Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul. New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-08-05.
  17. Thomas (Library of Congress): HR 4777
  18. Thomas (Library of Congress): HR 4411
  19. Thomas (Library of Congress): HR 2046
  20. Viser, Matt (July 13, 2008), “Unlikely ace for online gambling”, The Boston Globe, <> 
  21. Margolis, Anna., "Rep. Frank Votes Against "Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act"", May 11, 2006. Retrieved November 29, 2006.
  22. LA Weekly[dead link]
  23. Episode Guide - episode 86. HBO (2006-10-20). Retrieved on 2008-02-26.

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