Elijah Cummings was born on January 18, 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned a BA in political science from Howard University in 1973, and a JD from the Maryland University School of Law in 1976. From 1980-96, Cummings worked as a private-practice attorney and served in the Maryland State House of Delegates. On April 16, 1996, he won a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives seat that became vacant when Rep. Kweisi Mfume resigned from Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in order to take a job as president of the NAACP. Cummings went on to hold that seat until the end of his life in 2019. At the time of his death, he was a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus (which he had once chaired) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and was a former member of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus. To maximize the effectiveness of his re-election campaigns and political initiatives, Cummings used the services of Robert Creamer‘s Strategic Consulting Group.
When Cummings first joined Congress, he was plagued by serious financial problems. As The Washington Examiner reports: “His house was placed in foreclosure, at one point; he owed $30,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS; and he was taken to court multiple times for thousands in unpaid debts. Cummings said his financial difficulties were due to his hefty child support payments” to his first wife and two other women whose children he had fathered.
In January 2001 in Greenbelt, Maryland, Cummings spoke at the Working Families Legislative Conference, an event co-sponsored by Progressive Maryland and the Campaign for America’s Future. This gathering focused on ways to link local Maryland issues with a national progressive agenda vis-a-vis such matters as living-wage laws and the public financing of “affordable housing,” health care, after-school programs, and political campaigns. Another featured speaker at the conference was Robert Borosage.
When the House of Representatives voted by a 345-75 margin to defund the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN in September 2009, Cummings was one of the 75—all Democrats—who voted to continue funding the group.
On January 27, 2010, Cummings was one of 54 Members of Congress who signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama to apply diplomatic pressure to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza—a blockade which had been imposed in 2007 to prevent the region’s Hamas-led government from importing weaponry, particularly from Iran and Syria.
On July 28, 2010, Cummings joined Rep. Barbara Lee and former “green jobs czar” Van Jones in addressing that year’s installment of the 21st Century Democrats‘ Youth Leadership Speaker Series, an event sponsored by Rep. John Lewis and Senator Tom Harkin.
In 2012, Cummings falsely stated that True The Vote (TTV), a Texas-based organization which supports Voter ID laws as a means of ensuring honest and valid political elections, “will do almost anything to stop people from voting”—i.e., that it tries to “intimidate” and “harass” minorities with “very confrontational” tactics, in hopes that they will “turn away” from their polling places. In a letter he sent directly to TTV, Cummings charged that its “effort to challenge voter registrations by the thousands without any legitimate basis may be evidence of illegal voter suppression” and “could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.” In a number of additional, lengthy letters to TTV, Cummings claimed that he was involved in a House Oversight Committee investigation of the group. But by law, that Committee is only permitted to investigate government agencies, not private citizens.
Testifying before Congress in February 2015, the founder of True The Vote, Catherine Engelbrecht, stated that after she had filed an application to have the IRS grant tax-exempt status to her organization, that agency—along with the FBI, ATF, and OSHA—began targeting and harassing her. This was part of a much larger scandal whereby the IRS delayed, obstructed, and rejected hundreds of such applications by conservative groups. Cummings’s involvement in this scandal became apparent in 2014 when the House Oversight Committee released a number of emails proving that: (a) Cummings and his staff members had communicated with the IRS multiple times during 2012-13, and (b) the IRS and Cummings’s staff had asked for nearly identical information from Engelbrecht about her organization’s volunteer activities and training methods, indicating a coordinated and improper sharing of confidential taxpayer information. Prior to these revelations, Cummings had adamantly denied that he and his staff had made any inquiries to the IRS about TTV that may have led to additional scrutiny from the agency. Cummings’s transgression was a crime that, if prosecuted, could be punishable by up to five years in prison.
Former Justice Department official J. Christian Adams characterized Cummings and his fellow accusers as “liars” who “should be ashamed of themselves” for “bearing false witness against [TTV’s] law-abiding citizens who are doing no more than observing the [election] process.”
At a January 31, 2013 event in Baltimore, Cummings lauded the propagandistic CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program through which, each winter, Hugo Chavez‘s communist Venezuelan government donated what Cummings described as “life-saving” heating oil “for so many [Americans] whose resources are already stretched thin in tough economic times.” At the same event, Venezuela’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for North America praised the Chavez regime for demonstrating that its “commitment to the poor transcends all boundaries, ideological and geographical.”
Cummings served as the ranking Democrat on the select House committee that was empaneled in May 2014 to investigate the Islamic terrorist attacks that had killed four Americans at a U.S. diplomatic facility and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. In May 2015, Cummings denounced the entire investigation as a Republican-led “political charade” and “partisan attack” that sought only to harm the potential presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton’s willful and repeated failure to provide adequate security for the Benghazi facility—and her many subsequent lies about the nature and causes of the deadly events of 9/11/12—had drawn harsh criticism from Republicans.
In January 2015, Cummings objected strenuously when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Barack Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress on March 3rd about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his strong opposition to the deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. Cummings was one of numerous Congressional Black Caucus members who, because of Netanyahu’s act of “disrespect” against Obama, elected to boycott the speech.
In April 2015, when the city of Baltimore was under curfew following nights of riots and destruction in response to the recent death of a local black criminal named Freddie Gray while he was in police custody, Cummings declared that most of the protesters were peaceful, and that their battle against police racism and brutality made them “without a doubt the civil-rights voice of this generation.” “America needs to wake up, big time,” he added.
As President Barack Obama was completing his closing statement at a June 2012 press conference where he discussed his new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, which protected at least 800,000 young illegal aliens from possible deportation, a Daily Caller reporter shouted out a question about the impact that this new policy would have on American workers. Obama, who did not wish to take any questions, rebuked the reporter and left the podium. Cummings saw the reporter’s action as a sign of racist disrespect for the president, as he explained during an appearance on Martin Bashir’s MSNBC program: “What I believe is happening is there has been a disrespect not only for the president, but for the office of the president. And that is very, very alarming. We saw it when [Republican congressman] Joe Wilson called the president a liar. I think a lot of the same thing is happening with our attorney general [Eric Holder]. You know, these are two men who are doing an outstanding job, but there are folks who just don’t like it. And they never treated other folks like this, but here they are doing it to these gentlemen.” When Bashir then asked if Cummings thought that race had been a factor in these instances, the lawmaker replied: “I think that probably has something to do with it …”
When the Daily Caller in February 2018 contacted Cummings and a number of his fellow Congressional Black Caucus members to ask if they would be willing to publicly denounce the notorious Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Cummings was one of 20 who declined not only to denounce him, but also to issue any comment at all regarding his infamous anti-Semitic, anti-white rhetoric.
In a December 2018 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Cummings was asked whether he agreed with fellow Democrat Adam Schiff’s assertion that the Justice Department should reconsider the existing guidelines that said a sitting president — in this case, Donald Trump — could not be indicted. Cummings replied: “I think we should always reconsider laws and regulations. This is one we should definitely reconsider.”
In March 2019, Cummings, in his role as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, wrote a letter to former Fox News reporter Diana Falzone, demanding that she turn over any documents in her possession that related to President Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs. Cummings’s ire was sparked by a March 11th New Yorker story alleging that Fox News executive Ken LaCorte had tried to protect Trump during his presidential campaign by not reporting on his alleged past affair with former porn star Stormy Daniels. LaCorte vehemently denied that there had been any cover-up, saying that the story did not get Fox’s attention because it lacked corroborating evidence. “That [New Yorker] article,” wrote journalist Joel Pollack, “seems to have motivated Cummings’s letter — a letter that not only seeks personal dirt on the president, but seeks information that might be used to review Fox News’ editorial decisions. The committee’s letter suggests that Fox News may have violated campaign finance rules if it tried to help Trump by suppressing the Daniels story.”
Cummings and his second wife, Maya Rockeymoore, whom he married in 2008, together owned two rental properties in Baltimore worth between $250,000 and $500,000 apiece, and in 2018 they sold their three-bedroom Victorian row house in northwest Washington, D.C. for $896,000.
Cummings was an enthusiastic supporter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its supporters, whom he praised in October 2011 for their “efforts to establish positive relationships and eliminate fear, mistrust, discrimination and violence.” Four years later, Cummings lauded CAIR for working “diligently to champion the rights of all Americans and make democracy work for everyone.” “Your leadership and steadfast commitment to fostering understanding and peace are inspiring,” he added.
After serving for some time as the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has the authority to regulate a wide range of industries, Cummings became the chairman of that committee in January 2019. Four months later, the Washington Examiner reported that according to the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a possible ethics violation had arisen involving the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) — a charity run by Cummings’s wife, Maya Rockeymoore — which in recent years had received millions of dollars in grants from special-interest groups and corporations that had business before Cummings’s House Committee. Among the corporations involved were giants like Google, J.P Morgan, Prudential, and Johnson & Johnson. The problem, NLPC explained, was that CGPS’s “operations appear to have overlapped” with those of a related, for-profit consulting firm called Global Policy Solutions, LLC, which in 2016 had paid Rockeymoore a salary of $152,000. That overlap, said NLCP, could have resulted in “illegal private benefit” for Cummings and Rockeymoore. As the Washington Examiner reported on May 20, 2019:
“Tom Anderson, director of the [NLPC’s] Government Integrity Project,… said Rockeymoore declined to let [NLCP] view her nonprofit organization’s most recent public financial records as required by the IRS. “’When a powerful chairman of a committee of the House of Representatives has a wife that is bringing in money from entities with interests before his Committee and she is not providing the transparency mandated by the IRS, there’s a serious problem,’ said Anderson. ‘The potential for corruption in this situation is simply off the charts and can’t be understated. We hope Chairman Cummings works with his wife to end the stonewalling and provide the public with what’s legally mandated all charities provide.’
“Both Cummings and Rockeymoore refused to discuss the allegations with the Washington Examiner. Cummings did not answer questions about the overlap between companies with interests before his committee and donors to his wife’s foundation. Rockeymoore did not respond to request for comment.
“The [NLPC] complaint asked the IRS to investigate the ‘shared leadership,’ ‘integrated operations,’ and ‘shared address and physical facilities’ of [Rockeymoore’s] two companies. Rockeymoore’s nonprofit and the LLC have mutual clients, donors and projects, and were located at the same address and share a phone number…. The complaint states that they ‘appear to operate almost as a single entity, allowing for an illegal private benefit for Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and her husband.’
“Rockeymoore’s consulting firm was selected for a $1 million federal contract with the General Services Administration in 2017 for work on the ‘Leadership for Healthy Communities’ project to combat childhood obesity, according to federal records. At the same time, Rockeymoore’s nonprofit group ‘served as the national program office for Leadership for Healthy Communities,’ according to its website.
“If both groups were involved in managing the project, ‘the arrangement is self-dealing and cannot be arms length‘ as required by IRS law, and [this] ‘prompt[s] the question of whether [the Leadership for Healthy Communities’] organizers are getting fat off the grants,’ according to the [NLPC’s] complaint. Rockeymoore did not respond to multiple requests from the Washington Examiner for her nonprofit group’s most recent public financial records. Peter Flaherty, the chairman of the [NLPC], said [Rockeymoore] hung up the phone on him when he asked her for a copy.”
NLPC’s Tom Anderson emphasized that Rockeymoore’s refusal to hand over the pertinent financial records was “against the law” and “outrageous.” He added that Rep. Cummings “went on to rant about how we’re a conspiracy right-wing group for super-mega billionaires, which sounds like something out of Star Wars.” In a statement about the matter, the congressman said: “These baseless claims come from a group funded by right-wing mega-donors known for their political hit jobs. I am confident that they will be exposed for what they really are — a fabricated distraction from the important work being done on behalf of Americans, such as lowering the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs.”
In June 2019, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) issued a report asserting that President Trump’s White House counselor Kellyanne Conway should be fired for having violated the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that bars federal employees from engaging in political activities on federal property; Conway’s offense, said OSC, was that she had criticized Democratic presidential candidates during television interviews at the White House. In response to the OSC’s report, Cummings said: “Complying with the law is not optional. President Trump should terminate Ms. Conway’s employment immediately in light of these dozens of violations of federal law. Allowing Ms. Conway to continue her position of trust at the White House would demonstrate that the president is not interested in following the law—or requiring his closest aides to do so.” (As the Daily Signal noted: “The Office of Special Counsel previously found two of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet secretaries had violated the Hatch Act in 2012 and 2016, but neither was punished.”)
Cummings died on October 17, 2019, from complications related to longstanding health problems.
For an overview of Cummings’s voting record as a Member of Congress, click here.
For additional information on Elijah Cummings, click here.
Further Reading: “Elijah Cummings” (Votesmart.org, Keywiki.org); “Cummings: Racism ‘Has Something to Do with’ Obama Interruption” (Daily Caller, 6-15-2012); “Black Caucus Members Refuse to Denounce Hate Group Leader Louis Farrakhan” (Daily Caller, 2-7-2018); “Cummings: We ‘Should Definitely Reconsider’ If Trump Can Be Indicted” (Breitbart.com, 12-16-2018); “House Democrats Want ‘Oversight’ over Fox News’ Editorial Decisions” (Joel B. Pollack, 4-2-2019); “Top Democrat’s Wife May Have Gained ‘Illegal Private Benefit’ from His Committee Activities” (Washington Examiner, 5-24-2019); “Cummings’ Wife’s Refusal to Turn over Records on Her Nonprofit Is ‘Illegal,’ Expert Says” (Daily Caller, 5-31-2019); “Rep. Elijah Cummings Pushes Back on Allegations Against Wife’s Nonprofit” (Daily Caller, 5-28-2019); “White House Rebukes Calls for Firing of Conway Over Alleged Hatch Act Violations” (Daily Signal, 6-13-2019).