Bob Edgar, an ordained United Methodist minister who as a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania denounced pork-barrel politics during six terms and then as the head of the government accountability group Common Cause, died Tuesday at his home in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Burke, Va. He was 69.
He apparently collapsed after running on the treadmill at his home, said his wife, Merle Edgar.
For the past five years, Mr. Edgar was president and chief executive of Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization in Washington that advocates tighter regulation of campaign money, among other causes.
In 1986, Mr. Edgar decided not to seek re-election and was unsuccessful in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican. After a series of short-lived jobs, Mr. Edgar served as president of the Claremont School of Theology from 1990 to 2000.
Since leaving Congress in 1987, he also held leadership roles at the Claremont School of Theology in California and the National Council of Churches of Christ.
With the New York City-based church group, Mr. Edgar became a leading advocate in 2000 for the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba against the opposition of the 6-year-old child's relatives in Florida and many anti-Castro activists.
Mr. Edgar was the Protestant chaplain of Drexel University in his native Philadelphia before winning election to Congress in 1974. His civic involvement was mostly limited to church and community relations, including co-founding the city's first shelter for homeless women.
His political ambitions were fueled primarily by the Watergate scandal, which led President Richard Nixon to resign in August 1974. Mr. Edgar was undaunted by his dearth of campaign experience and the fact that the open seat he sought, in a suburban district southwest of Philadelphia, had voted Republican since 1858.
Mr. Edgar amassed one of the most liberal voting records in Congress. He favored investigations into two Pennsylvania Democratic colleagues accused of corruption, Reps. Daniel Flood and Joshua Eilberg. While serving on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Mr. Edgar championed stronger counseling and medical services for Vietnam War veterans.
On the Public Works and Transportation Committee, he tried to differentiate needed infrastructure repairs from pork-barrel boondoggles that he belittled as Congress' "manhood ritual."
Mr. Edgar was credited with helping to scuttle $1.4 billion in dam and water projects in 46 states, according to the Almanac of American Politics. He nearly sunk the multibillion-dollar Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a 234-mile, man-made shortcut that smooths the way for commercial navigation from the Tennessee River toward the Gulf of Mexico. He wanted local governments to contribute more money to the waterway.
Robert William Edgar was born in Philadelphia on May 29, 1943. He decided on a career in the ministry, he once said, after attending a church camp with charismatic leaders who showed that "faith could be exciting."
He said he met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just weeks before the civil rights leader's assassination in 1968 and that he was deeply influenced by King's teachings and those of the liberal Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler.
Mr. Edgar was a 1965 graduate of Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and three years later he received a master's divinity degree from Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Merle Deaver Edgar of Burke, Va.; three sons, Robert Edgar Jr. of Fort Payne, Ala., T. David Edgar of the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon, and Andrew Edgar of Herndon, Va.; his mother, Marion Edgar of Villas, N.J.; two brothers, Ralph Edgar of Grand Detour, Ill., and Richard Edgar of Mechanicsville, Md.; and eight grandchildren.