NOVEMBER 18, 2010
As the House Ethics Committee ponders how to punish Charles Rangel for his many transgressions, the veteran lawmaker urges the famously remiss panel to keep with its tradition of letting corrupt lawmakers like him off the hook.
Sure, Rangel pleads for “fairness and mercy” in a heartwarming statement that emphasizes decades of public service and a near-death experience at the hands of Communist Chinese in the Korean War, but the key message to his colleagues on the ethics board, officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is clear: Punish me as you have punished others.
In that case, the 20-term Democrat from Harlem will get a mere slap on the wrist for breaking nearly a dozen House rules, many of which also violate federal laws. Among Rangel’s offenses are using his office to raise money from corporations with business before him, perpetual tax evasion and hiding more than half a million dollars in assets. He also illegally accepted multiple rent control apartments in his
Not surprisingly, the notoriously lax ethics committee completely ignored one of Rangel’s worst offenses; enriching a foreign liquor company with billions of U.S. tax dollars by orchestrating a shady deal to relocate it from one unincorporated American territory (Puerto Rico) in the Caribbean to another (Virgin Islands) for no apparent reason. The secret deal that stuck it to Americans gave the European booze maker billions in tax credits, money to build a state-of-the-art rum distillery, half of the Virgin Islands’ rum-tax money, a 90% income-tax break and a property tax exemption.
While unscrupulous House members like Rangel engage in this sort of blatant corruption, the entity charged with upholding high standards of ethical conduct for its members, officers and staff has failed miserably to take action. In many cases the panel either fails to properly investigate or it simply conducts sham probes that usually end in absolution.
A recent example involves a
No wonder in his plea for fairness and mercy, Rangel asks his colleagues on the ethics committee to issue a sanction that keeps with “House precedents.” He also reminds them of his 40 years of public service that includes leaving the military a “decorated hero,” marching with Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement and passing historic legislation to end apartheid in South Africa. You can almost visualize the 80-year-old congressman’s little wrist slap.
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