Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rangel Faces Ethics Violations Charges

Rep Charles Rangel (D-NY) has been found to be in violation of House ethics rules. After more than two years, Rangel now has the options of accepting the charges and staying on, standing for trial or resigning. The trial will likely be in September. It is likely his fellow Democrats will pressure him to resign instead of putting them through the bad political narrative so close to the mid-term election.

So, what it is that led him here? Rangel (D-N.Y.) has been under the House ethics committee's microscope since early 2008 after it was reported that he may have used his House position to benefit his financial interests. Two of the most serious inquiries have focused on Rangel's failure to declare $239,000 to $831,000 in assets on his disclosure forms, and on his effort to raise money for a private center named after him at City College of New York using his congressional letterhead.

In March, Rangel reluctantly stepped down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee -- a week after the ethics panel ruled in a separate case that he had broken congressional gift rules by accepting trips to conferences in the Caribbean that were financed by corporate interests. The panel said that, at a minimum, Rangel's staff knew about the corporate backing for the 2007 and 2008 trips -- and that the congressman was therefore responsible.

It is reported that had Rangel accepted the allegations against him, he could skip the trial in the House. Rangel remains defiant, however, and negotiations broke down between him and the subcommittee. To date, he has used more than $2 million from his campaign treasury on legal fees, according to the Washington Post article.

The Wall Street Journal reports on Rangel's alleged violations: Allegations include Mr. Rangel's failure to report assets and income totaling at least a half-million dollars that, when he "amended" his reporting last year, doubled his net worth; his use of four rent-stabilized apartments in New York's tony Lenox Terrace complex, including one that he used as a campaign office; concealing taxable rental income from his Dominican Republic beachfront villa at the Punta Cana Yacht Club; and using his official Congressional letterhead to solicit donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.

Rangel stepped down as Chairman of the powerful, tax bill writing House Ways and Means Committee as his troubles mounted and the Democratic leadership could no longer ignore the atmosphere. All along, Rangel has maintained his woes are just oversights in paperwork, as though "forgetting" about half a billion of assets is commonplace.

When the Democrats took back the House of Representatives in 2007 and Nancy Pelosi became the Speaker of the House, she took great pleasure in the dramatic claim that the House would be the "most ethical" and "most transparent" ever. She claimed she would "drain the swamp". She made much of the ethical troubles of a few GOP members during the election leading up to her rise in power. You can count on the GOP returning the favor this fall. It is interesting that Rangel's chairmanship was safe up until the facts of his travel being paid for improperly came up. Tax evasion? Improper use of his federal office? Those allegations weren't enough to do it.

"Today's announcement is a sad reminder of Speaker Pelosi's most glaring broken promise: to 'drain the swamp' in Washington instead of presiding over 'the most honest, most open and most ethical' Congress in history," said Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

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