San Fran Chronicle – Debra J. Saunders
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct – also known as the House ethics committee – issued a Statement of Alleged Violation last week to Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y. To sum it up, Rangel thought he could skirt the rules and get away with it.
Earlier this year, the ethics committee admonished Rangel for taking corporate trips to the Caribbean in violation of House rules.
This go-round involves – I kid you not – the 20-term congressman’s quest for a Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York. Rangel thought it would serve the public interest to “preserve the work of (his) public life.” So in 2005, while a top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, he began requesting earmarks of $6 million for the center.
In what the committee sees as a probable violation of House rules, Rangel had his staff draw up a list of potential donors – which happened to include large corporations, tax-exempt foundations and charitable trusts with interests in his committee’s rulings. He sent letters on House stationery, using the House franking privilege, to deep pockets and squeezed donations from individuals with intense interest in Ways and Means Committee votes.
Rangel’s lawyers issued a response that argued, “If he mistakenly used the wrong letterhead or other modest resources for this worthy cause” – that worthy cause being the Rangel Center for Public Service – “the error was made in good faith.” (Ahem. That’s like forgetting to pay your taxes in good faith.)
The ethics committee also hit Rangel for receiving a rent-controlled apartment for his political action committee and failing to claim rental income on federal tax returns.
Rangel’s predicament must be very painful for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who once argued that she would “drain the swamp” of corruption in Congress.
Now Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill stresses the “bipartisan, confidential and independent ethics process in the House.”
You can argue that it does not reflect on Pelosi if Rangel broke the rules. But it does reflect on Pelosi if Democrats behave as if they don’t have to abide by the rules. What drives voters crazy is not so much that some lawmakers abuse their office as the fact that they get away with it for so long.
The ethics committee offered to allow Rangel to accept a reprimand – read: slap on the wrist – on the 13 charges, but Rangel refused.
Then on Monday, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, followed Rangel’s lead in challenging an ethics committee probe into her possible role in lobbying for a bank in which her husband owned stock. The bank, OneUnited, got $12.1 million in TARP funds.
It always was a conceit for Democrats to portray themselves as the ethical political party. The Republicans had Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay to prove that power corrupts on the right by turning the party of small government into an agent of big spending. The Democrats have Rangel and Waters – who have managed to mix racial politics with the arrogance of incumbency.
In that spirit, Rangel and Waters have demanded trials where, at best, they may convince their peers that if they did not break the rules, then they showed little interest in safeguarding the reputations of their party or their institution.
As the November elections approach, two House trials will parade two Democrats who will argue that they acted in the name of “disadvantaged and minority students” (Rangel) or “minority-owned banks” (Walters). And you think Americans have contempt for Congress now.
Washington Examiner – By: Mark Hemingway
At least 49 Democratic members of Congress — including nine senators and 43 congressmen — are hanging on to more than $368,000 in donations they received from embattled former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., during the 2008 election cycle.
Those 52 are in marked contrast to the 27 incumbent Democrats who earlier this year returned $378,000 in campaign donations from Rangel’s political action committee, including nine who returned $165,000 but only after being asked about the funds by The Examiner.
Rangel, who stepped down from the committee chairmanship in March, faces 13 complaints of ethical wrongdoing filed by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. He is accused of using his congressional authority to solicit donations and to enrich himself personally.
He was also formally admonished by the ethics committee for accepting trips to the Caribbean paid for in part by interests with business before the Ways and Means Committee.
Considering the seriousness of the extensive charges against Rangel, congressional ethics experts see little justification for members of Congress to hold on to campaign cash they got from the once-powerful New Yorker.
“It just shows how out of touch they are and certainly explains Congress’ 11 percent approval rating,” said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center. “It’s a case where greed trumps common sense and everybody knows that returning the money is the ethical thing to do.”
Professor John J. Pitney Jr., who teaches American politics at Claremont McKenna College, called the Rangel case a chance to educate voters by explaining how Rangel benefitted financially from multiple complicated conflicts of interest.
“Four years ago, the Abramoff scandal probably mattered a lot less than the [Rep. Mark] Foley scandal, because the latter hit home in a direct and emotional way. Few people know what lobbyists do. Everybody knows what sexual predators do,” Pitney said.
Further, Pitney said congressional scandals are no longer surprising. “In Rangel’s case, the charges involve behavior that many people assume is normal for lawmakers…
The Hill – By Jordan Fabian and Russell Berman
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) strongly denied allegations that she broke House ethics rules and rejected a deal that would avoid what could be a bruising doubleheader of public trials for veteran Democrats in a tough election year.
“I have not violated any House rules,” Waters said in a statement released Monday, minutes after the ethics committee posted a report finding “substantial reason to believe” a violation occurred.
“Therefore, I simply will not be forced to admit to something I did not do and instead have chosen to respond to charges made by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in a public hearing,” the 10-term lawmaker said.
The committee released a 23-page report detailing allegations against her and announced it has formed an adjudicatory subcommittee to hold a trial regarding the charges. The report was written by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) last year but was made public Monday.
The document contained no specific charges but said there is “substantial reason to believe” Waters, 71, committed a violation by improperly using her position to help others benefit financially.
Waters, a member of the Financial Services Committee, is accused of using her influence to arrange a meeting between Treasury Department officials and the National Bankers Association (NBA) regarding OneUnited Bank. Waters’s husband, Sydney Williams, was a significant shareholder in the bank at the time and formerly served on its board of directors.
The report disclosed that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told investigators that Waters had approached him for advice on the potential conflict of interest involving her husband.
“She was in a predicament, because Sydney had been involved in the bank,” the report said, characterizing Frank’s interview with investigators. “But OneUnited people were coming to her for help. She knew she should say no, but it bothered her.”
Frank said he urged her to “stay out of it” and arranged to have his staff take over the OneUnited issue from Waters.
The report does not detail whether Waters spoke with Frank before or after she set up the meeting with the Treasury Department. An aide to the congresswoman told The Hill on Monday the conversations with Frank occurred after Waters contacted then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson about the broader difficulties minority-owned banks were facing because of the collapse of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
When she realized that OneUnited was facing particular peril, she sought out Frank, the aide said.
Frank is named only as “Representative A” in the report, but a later addendum identifies “Representative A” as the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee…
Waters will be the second member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to face an ethics trial; Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) faces his own trial over 13 alleged violations of House rules and federal statutes. The scenario threatens to cast an ethical cloud on veteran House Democrats in the middle of the party’s fight to retain control of Congress this fall.
In her lengthy statement, Waters said the charges against her stemmed from her efforts to help minority communities and businesses in her state and nationally. She said the NBA requested a meeting with Treasury officials, and the meeting was not set up just to discuss OneUnited.
Waters said this point was underlined by a letter from the NBA to Treasury that was included in the OCE report.
“I followed up on the association’s request by asking then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to schedule such a meeting, as did other members of Congress. Secretary Paulson recognized that the NBA’s concerns about the future of minority banks were valid and arranged for a meeting,” she said in the statement.
Both Waters and Paulson acknowledged the importance of her involvement in setting up the meeting. Paulson told investigators that he was so busy managing the deepening financial crisis that a meeting would not have occurred without Waters’s call. Asked by investigators how often she directly contacted Cabinet-level officials, Waters said: “You don’t use your chits for nothing, you call when there is an important issue.”
The OCE report said that after the meeting, Paulson called Waters to express concern that few NBA members were in attendance. Three out of the four attendees invited by NBA had ties to OneUnited Bank…
Michelle Malkin: Maxine, Barney, Fannie, Freddie & TARP Hanky-Panky
American Thinker: On charges of racism, what goes around, comes around