Rangel’s Finances Under Review

Posted February 3, 2009 at 6:29pm

The House ethics committee is conducting a detailed investigation of the finances of Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), his office said Tuesday, though Rangel continues to contend that he expects the allegations against him to be quickly dismissed after the committee is formally organized for the 111th Congress.

Rangel acknowledged last fall that he had made a series of errors on his tax returns and financial disclosure forms, and he said he had hired a forensic accountant to review his returns and disclosures. The accounting report will be turned over to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and ultimately made public, Rangel said.

Rangel still has not filed amended disclosure forms because neither the accountant nor the ethics committee has finished its work, spokesman George Dalley said Tuesday.

“The plan was to wait until we had the forensic accounting finished so we would be really confident” that the amended forms were completely accurate, Dalley said.

But “the people who are overseeing our forensic accounting are also handling our defense before the ethics committee,” which has become a very involved process, he said.

“There has been testimony, there have been a lot of request for documents … there is quite a file by now,” Dalley said, adding he hoped the process would be complete “by the end of the month.”

Dalley emphasized — as Rangel has since the beginning — that the myriad errors on Rangel’s tax and personal disclosure forms were inadvertent and were largely the result of Rangel taking insufficient care in overseeing his financial reporting. Dalley suggested that the amended financial disclosure forms will show the reporting errors are too random to be intentional, with some information omitted and other information included that did not have to be reported.

But Rangel has publicly taken the offensive, alleging that the dust-up over his ethics problems are the result of a campaign by a conservative group that was feeding information to reporters.

Rangel was buffeted last summer and fall by a series of stories about his finances, including reports that he accepted several rent-controlled apartments from a New York real estate developer, failed to report or pay taxes on about $75,000 in rental income from a Dominican Republic villa and made numerous omissions and other errors over the past decade on his financial disclosure forms.

Rangel paid more than $10,000 in back taxes and asked the ethics committee to look into his villa and his apartments, as well as his use of Congressional letterhead to help recruit donors for a university center named after him.

In September, Rangel announced his plan to “engage a national forensic accountant specialist to conduct a thorough, independent review of all these statements going back 20 years as well as all of my U.S., state and local tax returns for the same time period. This report will be transmitted to me and [attorney Lanny] Davis and, at the same time, directly to the House Ethics Committee.”

Rangel said that “Once the Ethics Committee has reached its determinations as to whether I have violated any House rules,” the accountant’s reports would be made public.

In recent days, Rangel has said the whole affair is the result of unscrupulous reporters accepting news tips from a conservative organization that has financed investigations into his personal affairs.

During a C-SPAN interview that was taped Friday and aired Sunday, Rangel indicated that he was expecting a news story about the source of the allegations against him.

“I think next Tuesday you will see a break in this, and then certainly as soon as the ethics committee reorganizes, they should be able to dismiss this,” Rangel said. “I’m glad that this will be over and behind me soon.”

The Hill newspaper published a story Monday night about the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative group that has publicly claimed credit for some of the allegations against Rangel and has provided reporters with the results of its investigations.

In an interview Tuesday, Rangel said that “it does help to know that you are being targeted” and that he was not aware that the group had been investigating him and sending their findings to reporters. Rangel blamed “reporters, as an arm of this organization” for the stories that led to the ethics inquiry that he initiated into his finances.

Rangel said he had seen this group quoted in stories but said reporters failed to disclose that the group was the source for the stories. “I’ve ignored it until this revelation that they are creating the story,” Rangel said.

Rangel said it appears reporters have “accepted the allegations without giving the Member the benefit of an investigation.”

Rangel in particular was upset that the group sent an investigator to observe him and his family at his villa on a private vacation.

And Rangel predicted the ethics committee will rule in his favor. “I’m confident as I’ve always said that I’ll be exonerated” of any willful wrongdoing, he said.

Rangel would not answer specific questions about the allegations given the ethics inquiry and would not say whether he intended to ask the panel to release the full record of its probe.

Federal Election Commission reports indicate that the inquiry is costing Rangel tens of thousands of dollars, though he is using campaign funds to pay for it. During the 2008 cycle, Rangel paid more than $224,000 in legal fees from his campaign funds and political action committee, according to FEC reports compiled by CQ MoneyLine.

The majority of those funds consisted of a one-time payment in October of more than $121,000 to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe from Rangel’s re-election committee. The firm provided crisis communications and legal services to Rangel, and Orrick lawyer Lanny Davis was Rangel’s spokesman on ethics issues until the end of the year.

The firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair received more than $100,000 from Rangel during the cycle, including more than $40,000 from his National Leadership PAC and more than $12,000 from the Rangel Victory Fund. During the 2006 cycle, Rangel spent about $51,000 on legal fees between his campaign committee and PAC, all of which was paid to Oldaker.

These figures do not indicate any payments to Zuckerman Spaeder, the ethics speciality firm that Rangel has also hired.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.