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Rangel Steps Down

March 3, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Rep. Charles Rangel [D, NY-15] Democrat, one of the most powerful Democrats in the House, announced this morning that he is temporarily stepping down from his role as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The House ethics committee last week found him to have violated House ethics rules in 2007 by accepting travel from corporations that employ lobbyists.

“In order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work,” Rangel told reports this morning.

The Hill explains Rangel’s violation:

The conference [Rangel accepted travel to] was sponsored by the Carib New Foundation, a New York nonprofit affiliated with a newspaper catering to the Caribbean community in the city. The nonprofit, however, received corporate donations from Citigroup, American Airlines, Verizon, Pfizer and other businesses and failed to disclose that the money it received was specifically earmarked to pay the expenses of the Caribbean conferences.

So, the Carib New Foundation didn’t disclose their corporate funding and, as the ethics committee acknowledged, Rangel was not aware of the corporate ties. Two of his staffers were aware of the corporate sponsorship — one of who has since been fired — and the Ethics Committee ruled that Rangel is "responsible for the knowledge and actions of his staff and the performance of their official duties.” Last week, Rangel protested the finding. “Common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or mistakes or errors of staff unless there is reason to believe the members knew or should have known,” he said.

The ethics committee, officially called the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is still investigating Rangel on three more serious ethics allegations:

1) His use of official congressional letterhead to arrange meetings at which recipients of the letters would be solicited for contributions for an academic center at City College of New York that is named after him.
2) Reports that he pays below-market rent for four rent-stabilized apartments in Harlem, one of which is used as a campaign office in violation of state regulations. His landlord is a major campaign contributor.
3) Revelations that he failed to report income from a beachside villa he owns in the Dominican Republic and rents out for as much as $1,000 per night on both his tax returns and his congressional disclosure forms.

The Ways and Means Committee will be chaired by Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark [D, CA-13] Democrat, who, as Paul Blumenthal notes, has his own ethics issues. Stark is generally more liberal than Rangel, you can see a comparison of their voting history here and all of his sponsored bills here.

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