Hays was born in Bannock, Ohio in 1911 and graduated from the Ohio State University at Columbus in 1933. He taught in the cities of Flushing and Findlay in his home state between 1934 and 1938 while also doing agricultural work on the side. His first political appointment came in 1939, when he was elected mayor of Flushing; according to his congressional profile, he held the post until 1945, though the profile also mentions that he served in the state senate in 1941 and 1942. Hays became a member of the U.S. Army reserve corps in 1933, and was called to active duty the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. He served until the next year, when he received a medical discharge. From 1945 to 1949, he was a commissioner of Belmont County.
In 1948, Hays was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat, and managed to keep the seat for the next 28 years. During his time in Congress, he chaired a House delegation to the NATO Parliamentarians Conference and was president of the conference in 1956 and 1967. From 1969 to 1970, he was president of the North Atlantic Assembly.
Hays' first notable actions were his open mockery of a special House committee on which he served in 1954. The so-called Reece Committee, named for chairman Brazilla Carroll Reece (a Tennessee Republican), was formed to investigate several tax-exempt organizations for ties to Socialist or Communist movements. Included in the discussions was the research of human sexuality by Alfred Kinsey, which had been partially funded by the Rockefeller Institute. The committee soon drew criticism for its selective use of witnesses, as nine of the 10 witnesses that were ultimately called were employees of the committee.
On one occasion, Hays led a Democratic walkout from the committee, saying San Francisco lawyer Aaron Sargent had accused Democratic Senator Paul Douglas of Socialist ties; for good measure, Hays threatened to punch out a man who heckled him during the exit. In a ruse to demonstrate that statements were being taken out of context, Hays asked the committee's assistant research director, Thomas McNiece, for his opinion on three quotes advocating fair wages and relief for the poor. When McNiece said the quotes were consistent with Communist literature he had encountered, Hays retorted that they had actually been taken from the Encyclical of Pope Pius IX.
Ultimately, the committee fell apart after eight weeks when Reece declared that the hearings would end and the tax-exempt organizations could submit written statements to the congressional inquiries instead. Reece said both that Hays' actions had obstructed the committee and that the written statements would expedite the process. Hays' own opinion was that the witness testimony "was so utterly nonsensical and without basis in fact that it fell of its own weight, it seems to me that the action taken today was the least embarrassing way that Mr. Reece and his staff could get offstage.''
Over the years, Hays gained a reputation for his temper; Democratic Congressman Phillip Burton of California described him as "the meanest man in Congress." Periodically, Hays appeared in the news for some incident where these characteristics were at play. In 1956, Hays said he'd heard that the U.S. Immigration Commissioner, Joseph M. Swing, might inhibit his efforts to get citizenship for his adopted daughter and said Swing "will not be able to physically hold the job from then on" if that happened; Swing was defended by New Jersey congressman Alfred Sieminski, who suggested that he and Hays take it outside. In 1966, Hays was cited for speeding, unsafe operation, and failure to comply with the lawful order of a police officer after driving away from a traffic stop. Hays said he was offended by the cop, who had patted his holstered pistol while they talked, so he simply took off and refused to pull over again until the officer gave up the chase.
Most notably, Hays was criticized in 1963 for taking the head waiter of the House of Representatives, Ernest Petinaud, to London and Paris with a congressional delegation that he headed. Petinaud's transportation, room and board, and other expenses were paid for by the government. Hays said that the waiter served as a messenger during the trip; he also said Petinaud was invited in part because he was black, and also because he was a nice person who deserved a break.
Hays had a feud with Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of New York going back to at least 1956. In that year, Powell supported Dwight Eisenhower for President because he preferred Eisenhower's stance on racial integration. Hays requested that the Democratic caucus strip Powell of his committee assignments, and headed the 1966 probe into Powell's possible misuse of funds for travel. As has been noted, Powell replied in his autobiography that Hays' junket with Petinaud made him guilty of the same impropriety.
Following the 1970 elections, Hays became chairman of the Committee on House Administration and the Joint Committees on Printing and the Library. The House Administration committee controlled such functions as travel vouchers, office expenses, committee budgets, and other matters related to the House. He also chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which distributed campaign funds to House members and candidates.
Hays was accused of using his power on the House Administration committee to bully other congressmen and House employees. Among his orders were the removal of jump seats from the elevators so the operators would have to stand and banning tips for House barbers. After the 1974 elections, a reform effort aimed to remove Hays from this position, but he retained the chairmanship in a 161-111 vote. Meanwhile, in January of 1976, Ohio secretary of state Ted Brown accused Hays of abusing the congressional privilege of free mailing by sending out 160,000 letters to constituents opposing four state bond issues.
Hays was popular enough in his home district that there were rumors that he would seek a higher office, namely the Democratic nomination for the 1976 presidential race, or perhaps enter the Ohio gubernatorial race in 1978. He supported the public financing of presidential races, but not congressional ones, arguing that such regulation would lead to a glut of candidates. He helped craft a campaign finance reform act along these lines in 1974.
There were hints of Hays' possible infidelity prior to the incident in April of 1976. Earlier in the year, Hays divorced his wife, Martha, to whom he had been married for 38 years. His second marriage occurred quite close to the termination of his first, and to a woman some 30 years younger than him: Patricia Peak, the personal secretary in his Ohio office. Five weeks after the marriage, the scandal broke.
Elizabeth Ray had previously had a chance encounter with Marion Clark, a Washington Post reporter, on a train that had been delayed by a paint factory explosion. As the passengers swapped stories, Ray said that she had had quite a few sexual escapades in the nation's capital, including with congressmen. Clark tried to keep in touch with Ray, but lost track when Ray briefly went west to try to make it as an actress. Ray remembered Clark, however, and was eager to spill the beans on Hays after she was thrown out of his office.
Ray said that she had been working on Capitol Hill since 1972, starting as a hostess and then working for a few congressmen. She began working for Hays in April of 1974 as a clerk for the House Administration Committee. As Ray told it, though, "work" was too strong a term for what she did. Basically, she told the reporters, she was a hired mistress, coming in only a few hours per week to have sex with Hays and receiving $14,000 a year for the administrative duties she never performed. "I can't type. I can't file. I can't even answer the phone," she said.
Ray said she knew of other girls working for congressmen who also had to submit to sex to keep their jobs, and made references to "orgies" at the Capitol attended by congressmen. She said that on one occasion, Hays referred to the Fanne Fox incident by saying that any woman that embarrassed him in such a way would be "six feet under."
Clark and Post reporter Rudy Maxa took Ray up on the story and personally witnessed her dinner dates with Hays on a couple of occasions. Ray also allowed them to eavesdrop on a phone call from Hays. When Ray asked what the state of their relationship would be after Hays' wedding, Hays replied, "If you behave yourself, we'll see." He also advised her to start coming into work more often, since he was afraid that Bob Woodward, one of the two Post reporters who had managed to crack open the Watergate scandal, was after him (Woodward was looking into Hays on restaurant expenses, but not the Ray affair). Ray asked, "Do I still have to screw you?" Hays answered, "Well, that never mattered."
The Post ran the story on May 23, 1976. It included Hays response to the question of whether he had been having an affair: "Hell's fire! I'm a very happily married man!" However, the personal witness accounts of the reporters, including a transcription of the phone call, made the denial ring hollow. The story also accused another committee staffer, Paul Panzarella, of living with Hays' niece and receiving a paycheck for doing virtually no work. In later investigations, Hays was accused of giving two other men annual salaries of $25,000 and $10,000 for minimal contributions to the committee.
Two days after his denial, Hays admitted to having a "personal relationship" with Ray but maintained that she had done work for the committee and had not been hired solely for sex. Time opined that Ray was not the most sympathetic character, described by past boyfriends as "nutty, spacey, neurotic, or dim," but that Hays' overall crustiness made him a particularly worthy subject to be knocked down a peg or two. In July of 1976, the Ohio Black Political Assembly called for Hays' expulsion, saying the House had set a precedent for expulsion for misconduct with the Powell decision and needed to be consistent. Noting that Powell, dead since 1972, had said he could come back to haunt those who had removed him because they were guilty of the same sins, a lawyer later referred to Ray as "the ghost of Adam Clayton Powell."
In June, Hays was hospitalized after taking an overdose of sleeping pills, an action he insisted was accidental and not a suicide attempt. The same month, he resigned from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Committee on House Administration, an action that automatically removed him as chair of the Joint Committee on Printing. He said he was resigning due to the accusations and the state of his health, but that he was convinced he would be exonerated and possibly restored. In fact, Hays was easily able to win the Democratic nomination for the 1976 election that month.
Instead of proceeding, Hays announced in August that he would not seek re-election. "The polls show I'd win, but I don't want to give that woman another chance to make an appearance," he said. By this point, a book on the affair entitled "The Washington Fringe Benefit" had been published under Ray's name. Ray herself said she regretted her actions and that she had not intended to bring about Hays' downfall; she even declared, "He's suffered enough. He's gone through enough torture."
On September 1, Hays resigned. The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct immediately dropped its investigation, since they no longer had jurisdiction in the matter. Hays had reportedly asked for the ethics committee to look into the matter in order to show that Ray had actually worked for her salary, though other sources say the resignation was explicitly to escape the committee's investigation.
The matter was not a simple matter of infidelity, however; there was still the question of whether Hays had thrown away government money on useless employees. For a time, the Justice Department looked into whether Hays could be charged with conspiracy to defraud the government or conversion of public funds to private use. In October, three lawsuits seeking to recover Ray's salary were dismissed, and in December the Justice Department closed their investigation without pressing charges. An anonymous source said there was a lack of evidence against Hays, and that Ray's credibility was also an issue.
Douglas Applegate, the Ohio state senator chosen to replace Hays as the Democratic nominee, won the 1976 election and served until his decision to not run for re-election in 1994. Hays' marriage survived the uproar and he returned to his farm in Ohio, where he raised cattle and horses. Only two years after the scandal, he ran for the state house of representatives; his Republican opponent, George Contos, tried to use the scandal against Hays but without success. Hays served one term before being defeated in a re-election attempt. In 1980, he became chairman of the Belmont County Democratic Party, and the next year he was elected to the Belmont County Board of Education. In 1989, he died at a hospital in Wheeling, West Virginia after suffering a heart attack.
Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "McArthur Inquiry Sought In Capital" in the Toledo Blade on Jun. 25 1949, "Democrats Walk Out of House Probe" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 25 1954, "The Lesson" in Time on Jun. 21 1954, "Report Card" in Time on Jul. 12 1954, "Work Done" in Time on Apr. 2 1956, "Ohio Congressman Walks Out of Ike's Middle East Huddle" in the Daily Collegian on Jan. 9 1957, "Hays, Headwaiter Return" in the Toledo Blade on Nov. 12 1963, "Ohio Mayor Says Lawmaker To Find Law Is Not A Joke" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 20 1966, "Powell Acts May Bring Prosecution" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Dec. 22 1966, "Patman Pushed Out As Panel Chairman" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 23 1975, "Hays Is Charged With Misuse of Mail Privilege" in the Bryan Times on Jan. 5 1976, "Milestones" in Time on Apr. 26 1976, "Closed Session Romance On The Hill" in the Washington Post on May 23 1976, "Indecent Exposure On Capitol Hill" in Time on Jun. 7 1976, "Hays' Resignation Accepted" in the Ellensburg Daily Record on Jun. 21 1976, "How The Washington Post Got The Goods On Wayne Hays" in New York Magazine on Jun. 21 1976, "Liz Ray Could Be 'Adam Powell's Ghost:' Lawyer" in Jet on Jul. 15 1976, "Black Group Wants Hays Expelled" in the Bryan Times on Jul. 27 1976, "Study Reveals Third Marginal Hays' Staffer" in The Ledger on Aug. 5 1976, "Hays Quits Race, Hopes That Finishes Miss Ray" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Aug. 13 1976, "Wayne Hays Is Replaced" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Aug. 17 1976, "One Incumbent Loses" in the Bryan Times on Nov. 8 1976, "Elizabeth Ray" in the Boca Raton News on Sept. 1 1976, "Hays Resigns House Seat" in the Spokesman-Review on Sept. 2 1976, "Capitol Hill's Sex Scandal All Worn Out" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Dec. 9 1976, "Scandal Ads Backfire in Hays' Ohio Contest" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Oct. 21 1978, "Wayne Hays Elected To Ohio School Post" in the Spokesman-Review on Nov. 3 1981, "Wayne L. Hays of Ohio Dies at 77" in the New York Times on Feb. 11 1989, Ohio Politics by Alexander P. Lamis and Mary Anne Sharkey, The Betrayal of the American Right by Murray N. Rothbard and Thomas E. Woods, Philanthropic Foundations In The Twentieth Century by Joseph Charles Kiger, Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime by Lawrence M. Salinger