Charles Rangel charged with ethics violations: How bad for Democrats?

Charles Rangel, a Democratic congressman from New York, faces a House trial in which eight members will rule on the findings. Democrats will be concerned about its effect on midterms.

Hyungwon Kang/Reuters
Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York walks outside his Capitol Hill office in Washington, shortly after a congressional investigative panel accused Mr. Rangel of undisclosed ethics violations on July 22.

Members of a House panel on Thursday charged Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York with violating a list of House ethics rules.

The subject of an 18-month investigation, Representative Rangel – a 40-year member of Congress and the House’s fourth most-senior member – now faces a House trial in which eight members (four Democrats and four Republicans) will rule on the findings.

The four-member panel of the House ethics committee did not lay out the alleged violations in detail. But they are reported to include at least some of the most serious.

IN PICTURES: Ethically challenged Congressmen

The allegations range from misuse of rent-controlled apartments in New York City and failure to disclose income from a villa in the Dominican Republic to reports that he exchanged official favors – a tax loophole for oil driller Nabors Industries Ltd. – in exchange for a $1 million gift to the Charles Rangel Center at City College of New York.

Last year, Republicans failed to force Rangel to step down as chairman of the influential tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. But when the House ethics panel reported that Rangel had violated House gift rules by accepting corporate funding for trips to the Caribbean, he relinquished his committee chairmanship in March.

Ethics watchdog calls for Rangel's resignation

At the time, Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), an ethics watchdog in Washington, told the Monitor that “trips to the Caribbean are the least of his problems.”

“As we get deeper into election season, support is eroding for Rangel, because members know that ethics matters with voters,” she said.

With the latest turn in Rangel’s fight to avoid further political damage, Ms. Sloan’s organization called for the congressman’s resignation from the House.

“Today’s action demonstrates that the notoriously lax Ethics Committee has found substantial reason to believe that Representative Rangel has violated federal law, House rules, or both,” Sloan said in a statement. “Now the question is whether Representative Rangel will resign or endure a public trial that promises to be filled with detailed and undoubtedly embarrassing revelations of wrongdoing. Representative Rangel has toughed it out as long as he could, the time clearly has come for him to resign. He can no longer effectively represent the citizens of New York.”

In his Harlem district, where he remains popular, calls for Rangel’s resignation from the House may not carry much political weight.

A concern for Democrats

Still, Rangel’s political and perhaps legal troubles are bad news for majority Democrats working to lose as few seats as possible in the November election. Rangel has long been a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) of California.

Last year, another ethics watchdog group, the Sunlight Foundation, examined Rangel’s financial record going back to 1978, the first year House members were required to detail their personal finances. The group “found 28 instances in which he failed to report acquiring, owning, or disposing of assets.”

“Assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 appear or disappear with no disclosure of when they were acquired, how long they were held, or when they were sold, as the operative House rules at the time required,” the Sunlight Foundation reported.

Over the years, both parties have suffered political embarrassment – and each has lost its House majority – because of corruption scandals.

The last such case in which a member was expelled from Congress involved Rep. James Traficant (D) of Ohio. Mr. Traficant, who was charged with taking bribes and filing false tax returns, served a seven-year sentence. In a bid to return to Congress this year, Traficant failed to get enough valid petition signatures to get on this fall’s ballot.

Rangel recently announced a bid for a 21st term. One of his Sept. 14 primary opponents is Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of the former congressman – himself the focus of political scandal – whom Rangel defeated in 1970.

IN PICTURES: Ethically challenged Congressmen


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