Editorial: Two Years

Ethics Committee Owes Rangel, Voters Word on Lengthy Probes

Posted July 20, 2010 at 5:52pm

It’s been nearly two years since the House ethics committee began investigating charges against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) — and long past time for some information to emerge about what the committee has found.

Having spent more than $2 million in legal fees and having been forced to step aside as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rangel deserves either vindication or punishment — and the public deserves an accounting from the ethics committee before the November elections.

Under other circumstances, we might assume that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct was still painstakingly at work on the various aspects of the case.

But the panel’s consistent record of dismissing charges against other Members — along with its traditional secretiveness — arouses suspicion that it is delaying action until after the elections, or perhaps even until this Congress adjourns.

Surely by this time the ethics committee is able to pass judgment on some of the lesser or longer-standing charges against Rangel, if not the more serious and complex ones.

The former would include the matter that first led Rangel to ask for an investigation on July 17, 2008 — the charge that he used his official House stationery to raise money for a City College of New York school of public policy bearing his name.

Rangel also initiated an inquiry into his ownership of four rent-controlled apartments in New York, one of which he formerly used as an office, his failure to report rental income on a vacation property in the Dominican Republic and his owing $10,000 in federal and state taxes. Investigation of those matters surely has been completed by this time — along with the allegation that he improperly used a House parking space to store a car he owned.

The most serious case involves charges, first leveled in the New York Times in late November 2008, that he may have traded legislative action to preserve a lucrative tax loophole benefitting an oil drilling company for a $1 million pledge to his CCNY institute from the firm’s CEO.

In October 2009, the ethics committee announced that its investigative subcommittee had “authorized the issuance of close to 50 subpoenas; interviewed approximately 34 witnesses in over 2,100 pages of transcripts; reviewed and analyzed over 12,000 pages of documents; and held over 30 investigative subcommittee meetings.”

At that time, the committee announced that it was also looking into Rangel’s financial disclosure reports, including amendments he filed at that time revealing $500,000 in assets he had not previously disclosed.

Under pressure from House Republicans, Rangel stepped down from his chairmanship in March of this year after the committee “admonished” him because his staff — not he — knew that two trips to the Caribbean he took with five other Members were paid for by corporations. The other five were cleared.

Losing his powerful perch was stiff extra-judicial punishment, for sure. Whether he deserves formal discipline is something Rangel and voters deserve to know. Voters and Members also deserve to know whether the ethics committee is at all functional.