Rangel Asks For Probe Into Charity Solicitation

Posted July 23, 2008 at 6:33pm

House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) filed the first of two formal complaints against himself with the House ethics committee on Wednesday, an unusual move aimed at tamping down allegations the lawmaker has misused his public office.

In a letter delivered to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Rangel asked the panel to review his use of official stationery to organize fundraising efforts for a City College of New York facility that bears his name.

“If I inadvertently violated House Rules, I am prepared to trust the Committee’s judgment and accept its finding,” Rangel wrote. “I would appreciate your most comprehensive review and expeditious reply to my request for advice.”

Although Members are permitted to solicit for nonprofit organizations such as public colleges, they are prohibited from using Congressional resources to do so.

In addition, a Rangel spokesman said the lawmaker will file a second request as early as today for the committee to review Rangel’s use of three rent-controlled apartments as his primary residence in New York.

A New York Times report on the lawmaker’s home — including a fourth apartment in the same building used as a campaign office, which Rangel has since agreed to vacate — prompted questions over whether Rangel is in violation of rent-control laws for occupying more than one unit, as well as whether his below-market rent could be considered a gift.

Rangel had initially dismissed suggestions that he ask the ethics panel to examine his living arrangement, noting that he pays the maximum legal rent for the units. But spokesman Emile Milne said Wednesday that “he thought about it some more and decided the best way to clear all of this up is to have that body look into it.”

Although lawmakers and aides routinely seek advice from the ethics panel, it is highly unusual for a Member to file a formal complaint against another lawmaker — the last such instance occurred in the 108th Congress when then-Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas) filed a complaint against then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — much less a grievance about themselves. While the ethics panel may initiate an investigation at any time, the complaint process is otherwise restricted solely to Members.

Unlike those individuals seeking guidance from the ethics panel, Members filing a formal complaint must follow specific guidelines that require a detailed explanation of the grievance, including those involved and the rules allegedly violated, and must provide a copy of that information to the lawmaker targeted.

“A complaint shall not contain innuendo, speculative assertions, or conclusory statements,” the House Ethics Manual states.

Rangel’s letter notes that his attorney will submit a follow-up document to the ethics panel “with a more detailed factual recitation.”

Once the ethics panel has received Rangel’s complaint, Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) must determine whether the complaint is acceptable under House rules, and if so can either opt to establish an investigative subcommittee or recommend the full committee discuss the complaint.

In his letter to the ethics panel, Rangel acknowledged that he issued about 150 letters to family and corporate foundations and a handful of private individuals beginning in June 2005 in an effort to draw attention to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service.

“Was my hope that these meetings would result in making financial donations to this important project with such an important public purpose?” Rangel wrote. “Of course. But I genuinely believed that by not soliciting or making any reference to donations using my congressional letterhead and merely facilitating meetings to discuss this project, I was not violating House Ethics Rules concerning the use of congressional letterhead.”

In his letter, Rangel also denied a potential conflict of interest with his Ways and Means post, asserting that the individuals — including Carnegie Corp. President Vartan Gregorian and David Rockefeller — or corporate charities he approached did not have business before his committee.

“So far as I am aware, none of those whom I wrote had any pending requests into my office, lobbied me regarding any legislation before my committee, or asked me for assistance on legislation in which they had a special interest,” he wrote.

Rangel asked the ethics panel, however, to focus its investigation only on whether he misused House resources in issuing the letters and whether his efforts should be considered “official House business,” asserting that the college center has a “public purpose.”