House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) acknowledged Thursday the House ethics committee has admonished him for accepting privately funded travel to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008 that apparently violated House rules but he denied wrongdoing on his part.
The House ethics panel announced Thursday night that five other Members who attended the same trips inadvertently violated House rules, and said all six lawmakers must repay the costs of the trip.
Rangel announced in a Thursday night press conference that the ethics committee is admonishing him for the trips, concluding that the he is responsible for two of his staffers who failed to report that corporate money helped fund them.
I dont want to be critical of the committee, but 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 theres reason to believe that the Member knew or should have known, and theres nothing in the record to indicate the latter, he said.
The ethics committee opened an investigative subcommittee in June 2008 to look into the Caribbean trips focusing on Rangel and Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Don Payne (D-N.J.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) after media reports raised questions about fundraising by the trips sponsor, the Carib News Foundation, as well as whether private companies sponsoring the 2008 event in St. Maartens, Netherlands Antilles.
According to a statement issued by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is formally called, the ethics committee approved both the 2007 and 2008 trips based on false and misleading information.
Under House rules, every Member or aide must obtain the ethics committees consent for privately sponsored travel, including a certification from the sponsor that the trip conforms to the chambers rules. Members are not allowed to accept multiple-day travel from private entities that employ lobbyists, but they may accept travel from nonprofits that are supported by private companies.
After each trip, Members and aides are also required to submit a form to the ethics committee certifying the travel, accommodations and activities matched those included in their pre-travel filing.
Although the Committee had approved the Members travel, that approval was conditional upon the information provided to the Committee being true and correct. That was not the case, the ethics committee statement said. Since the Members were provided false information by others and relied upon that information in seeking approval to accept the trips, the Committee concludes that the Members committed no wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, since the Members did, in fact, receive impermissible gifts of travel, they must repay the costs of their trips to the respective entities that paid for their travel. Because some portions of the transportations costs were paid by Carib News out of funds the actual source of which could not be determined, the Committee will require those funds to be paid to the U.S. Treasury.