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Rangel, and Murtha and Dodd oh my.

Have you noticed that despite the Speaker’s claim that hers will be the most ethical congress in history the list of Democrats getting caught in ethics violations?  And even when the violations are being investigated, some politicians (Charlie Rangel) try to “pay off” their colleagues on the ethics committee with campaign donations.

Rangel’s ethics problems are massive, and the list is very long, here are just a few:

  • In September he admitted a failure to report $75 thousand in taxes.
  • He was discovered taking a tax break for people whose primary residence was in Washington DC, but if his primary residence was in DC he couldn’t be congressman representing NYC. And besides, he was occupying four rent controlled controlled apartments in New York, the rule is you don’t qualify for rent control unless the apartment is your primary residence. That is why he got in trouble for using one of the apartments as his office.
  • In May, the  House Ways and Means Chair found himself in a new ethics investigation, this time “pay-for-play”.  The allegation is that Rangel helped preserve a lucrative tax loophole for an Oil Company, and in turn the Oil Company donated a Million Dollars to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service. Maybe it was for research on how people in Congress find way to service themselves.
  • The end of June saw a new scandal as  the Ethics Committee launched an investigation of the NY Congressman, this one  revolving around a Caribbean boondoggle.
  • Then there is the matter of his financial disclosure form. Lets just say it had some mistakes also. Including a house worth One Million dollars that he forgot he owned.

Rangel isn’t the only Democrat whose reputation has been tarnished over the past few months, there is Chris Dodd with his funky loans, John Murtha with his earmark scandals, Jefferson with the money in the freezer and others.  The question that arises is when (if ever) does this start hurting the Democratic party?

Ethics spotlight burns on House Dems
By Susan Crabtree –
The ethics spotlight on House Democrats is intensifying amid predictions from political analysts that Republicans will pick up many seats in next year’s midterm elections.

Few are going so far as to say that the GOP will win back the House, but ethics controversies are key to the rise of the minority party in the lower chamber. Republicans capitalized on Democratic ethics woes to win the House in 1994 and Democrats turned the tables on the GOP in 2006, catapulting Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Speaker.

Democrats didn’t need any more bad news during an unusually bruising healthcare debate during the August break, but House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) attracted more headlines when he failed to disclose at least $650,000 — and possibly millions of dollars — in assets on required congressional forms.

Newspapers across the country — including The Washington Post — have called on Rangel to give up his Ways and Means post while the ethics committee evaluates the many ethics allegations that have been detailed in various media accounts.

Some Democratic aides have tried to downplay Rangel’s problems, claiming that most voters are paying attention to healthcare reform and are unfamiliar with the controversy swirling around the House lawmaker.

However, there are signs that the Rangel controversies are extending well beyond the Washington Beltway. Late last week, Rangel ranked No. 10 in a list of popular Yahoo searches, after the U.S. Open, the swine flu vaccine, Vice President Joe Biden and movie director Guy Ritchie.

“Allowing this to linger without resolution for this long is not healthy or good for anyone,” said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the government watchdog Common Cause. “It’s not good for Rangel, it’s not good for the public and it’s not good for Congress as an institution.”

To make matters worse for Democrats, two central players in a defense earmark prosecution are set to be sentenced this fall. That will likely prompt new waves of media attention to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who requested the earmark at the heart of the case.

Pelosi has said she will take no action against Rangel or any other member unless the ethics committee recommends punishment or a prosecutor brings criminal charges.

As minority leader, Pelosi did not wait until formal charges were filed against then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.). But after an FBI investigation reportedly turned up $90,000 in Jefferson’s freezer and triggered concern from some House Democrats about the upcoming 2006 midterm elections, Pelosi removed Jefferson from the Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson was indicted on corruptions charges in 2007 and convicted this year.

Pelosi’s move to oust Jefferson from the powerful panel was criticized by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but the decision proved to be politically shrewd.

With another midterm election approaching, Democrats’ angst with Rangel is expected to increase. Wanting to distance themselves from Rangel in 2008, a couple of

Democrats either returned political contributions he gave them or donated the money to charity.

In mid-August, Charlie Cook, one of the best election analysts in politics, predicted that Democratic losses in 2010 could exceed 20 seats.

“These data confirm anecdotal evidence, and our own view, that the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats,” he wrote. “Today, The Cook Political Report’s congressional election model, based on individual races, is pointing toward a net Democratic loss of between six and 12 seats, but our sense, factoring in macro-political dynamics, is that this is far too low.”

Pelosi has said she wants the ethics committee to be allowed to handle both the Rangel investigation and another probe into the nexus between defense earmarks and campaign contributions.

The panel is under intense pressure, especially when it comes to the Rangel matter, to reach a conclusion in some part of the case as quickly as possible. The Rangel investigation began more than a year ago at Rangel’s urging.

Originally, Pelosi predicted it would wrap up by the end of 2008, but after new reports of additional ethics allegations surfaced, the panel was forced to expand the probe at least twice.

The panel could decide to expand the investigation yet again — and may be able to wrap up work by the end of the year after hiring five lawyers and one senior investigator at the end of July who worked long hours over the recess getting settled into their jobs.

In the last two weeks, with the additional revelations of Rangel’s tax and financial problems, watchdogs are growing restless and mulling the possibility of calling for a special counsel to step in and take over the ethics investigation. Even though some good-government groups worry that appointing an independent counsel could turn back the clock on the entire probe, their patience for a conclusion — even a partial one — is growing thin.

“Everyone is waiting with bated breath for [the ethics committee’s] decision and comments,” said Lisa Gilbert, democracy advocate for U.S. PIRG. “If we don’t have it resolved in a couple of months, we’ll start calling for further action.”

The inaction is leaving an opening for Republicans. House Republican Conference Secretary John Carter (Texas) and other GOP members took to the House floor Tuesday night to demand House ethics action against Rangel. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week renewed his call for Rangel to give up his gavel.

With the new financial disclosure revelations and ethics investigative team finally in place, it would make sense for the committee to expand the investigation and give it more time to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

But if the final committee report analysis is perceived as weak, the panel will face new charges that it’s not living up to its claim of taking ethics matters more seriously than in previous Congresses, and Pelosi will face criticism from all sides that she failed to live up to her promise to “drain the swamp.”

“We’re all just waiting to see what the heck the ethics committee is going to do now that it’s reconstituted,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center. “If there is some kind of indication that this has not been a serious investigation … if the report they issue is not very complete, all of us will be up in arms.”

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