The House Ethics Committee voted today, 9-1, to recommend that the full House of Representatives censure New York Democrat Charles Rangel. “Censure,” if adopted, means that Rangel would appear in the well of the House of Representatives and be orally rebuked by the Speaker of the House with respect to his misdeeds. It is viewed as a serious sanction, second only to expulsion from the House of Representatives.
Rangel, predictably, reacted emotionally to the Committee’s recommendation. The 80-year-old Congressman, who has served for 40 years, apologized, said he didn’t know how much longer he had to live, and added he hoped that the committee would indicate that his actions were not taken “with the intention of bringing any disgrace on the House or enriching myself personally.” He also made the Nixonian statement that he is not a crooked politician.
I’m tired of politicians who flout the rules, make an emotional apology, and then think everybody should forget about their ethical and legal shortcomings. In this instance, the House Ethics Committee found, on a bipartisan basis, that Rangel was guilty on 11 of 13 charges. The charges included that he improperly used official resources to raise money for his “Rangel Center” — which received a spike in corporate donations after Rangel became chair of the House Ways and Means Committee — that he failed to pay taxes on property in the Dominican Republic, and that for years he filed misleading disclosure forms that failed to list hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets.
Censure sounds like pretty light punishment for a pattern of violations of House rules that extended over a number of years. When you were a kid, getting yelled at by your parents was no big deal — it was grounding that really hurt. If Representatives can flout House rules for years and then, upon discovery, apologize, claim simple oversight, and retain their position after some finger-wagging by Madame Speaker, House ethics rules are pretty toothless.
I’ve posted on several occasions about the ethical issues surrounding Democratic Representative Charles Rangel, the former head of the House Ways and Means Committee — see here, here, and here. The House Ethics Committee has now announced that Rangel will be tried on ethics charges before the Committee. The bipartisan nature of the finding of “substantial reason to believe” that Rangel has violated ethics rules suggests that he has reason to be concerned.
I am glad to see that the Ethics Committee is showing that the ethics rules have some teeth. Let’s hope the trial actually goes forward and sheds some light on the unseemly practices that seem to be all-too-common in Congress.
When it comes to Rep. Charles Rangel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a bit of a wuss. Even though Rangel, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been dogged by his unseemly failure to list many of his assets on financial disclosure forms — so much so that even the Washington Post has called for him to yield his chairmanship — Pelosi apparently is unwilling to oust him. She is concerned that booting Rangel will upset members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and she also is concerned that she doesn’t really have any good candidates to replace him.
Why don’t politicians just ‘fess up? In reality, they don’t care about ethics — at least, not about the ethical lapses of the people on their team. Ethics is hauled out only when it is a problem for the other party; it is disregarded when enforcing ethical behavior involves any meaningful political cost. If Nancy Pelosi won’t enforce ethical behavior when a powerful Congressman grossly flouts his disclosure obligations, then she isn’t much of a Speaker. And, if the Democrats don’t take meaningful action against Rangel, then they will have no credibility the next time they protest when, as will inevitably be the case, a Republican is found to have acted unethically.
Rep. Charles Rangel
The ongoing stories about Congressman Charles Rangel’s failure to disclose significant assets and transactions, and even checking and brokerage accounts, in his congressional disclosure forms is just another example of the culture of contempt for the rules and disdain for the little guy that is so sickeningly pervasive in Washington, D.C.
The whole purpose of congressional disclosure rules is to report assets, outside income, and other financial data that could suggest corruption with respect to the industries Congress is regulating. Rangel is the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax litigation in the House of Representatives. What position could be a more likely focus of special treatment and sweetheart deals designed to obtain undue influence? If the congressional self-reporting system were intended to be a meaningful regulatory regime, you would think it would be especially attentive to proper, full, and complete disclosure by the heads of powerful committees — yet Rangel grossly understated his income and net worth and failed to disclose lucractive transactions for years. Once his omissions were disclosed, he promptly amended his forms and no doubt will claim “no harm, no foul.” Care to bet whether he will be disciplined in any way by the House Ethics Committee for his chronic flouting of the disclosure rules? Don’t hold your breath.
Frankly, it gets boring writing about the personal greed, negligence and ethical vacuity of our elected representatives, but if informed citizens don’t do so the corruption problem won’t get any better. People like Chairman Rangel need to know that some people are paying attention, even if the voters who routinely return him to Congress apparently aren’t.