Saturday, December 11, 2010

He Can't Rangel Out of an Ethics Violation

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.
By an overwhelming vote of 333 to 79, 20-term Congressman Charles B. Rangel was censured by his colleagues for 11 ethics violations, including, among other things, improperly using his office to solicit fundraising donations for a City College built in his honor and failing to pay income taxes on a vacation home.
Rangel is the first member of the House to be censured in almost thirty years. The last were Congressmen convicted of having sex with Congressional pages. Congress passed up the opportunity to doll out a reprimand, a lesser punishment.

Rangel, like the newly convicted former Congressman Tom DeLay, claims that his punishment is politically motivated. (For more on DeLay, please see this recent post).
Rangel seemingly strode the streets of Harlem, the area of New York he represents, as a king among men. He has indeed given a great deal to our country, serving in the Korean War and as a driving force of the civil rights movement. Four short years ago Rangel nabbed the coveted position of chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
After this steady rise, came a precipitous fall. By 2008, newspapers buzzed with reports that Rangel accepted Manhattan apartments below fair market value, failed to report personal assets on disclosure forms, and neglected to pay income taxes.
Rangel was also accused of number of fundraising violations involving a City College built in his honor. Rangel, for instance, was charged with using Congressional stationary to solicit funds, asking companies and their representatives with business in front of Congress for donations, and protecting a tax loophole for a company that promised to make a million dollar donation to that school. Rangel eventually relinquished his position as chair of the Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel later said he brought the situation on himself, but vehemently pleaded with members of Congress to serve up a lesser sentence, a "reprimand." His pleas were to no avail and the formal censure was handed down.
What will happen to Rangel now that he has been censured? Not much. His reputation may have been forever tarnished, but it seems once Rangel stepped down as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, the concrete sanctions ceased.
Rangel's campaign for a reprimand instead of a censure shows just how much words matter. Perhaps that should be no surprise to members of a governing body whose job descriptions include drafting laws, an area in which words most certainly do matter.
A censure is a formal resolution condemning inappropriate behavior that carries no specific consequences. Censures and reprimands are the same thing in the Senate, but different in the House, where a reprimand is served up when the crime is seen as not rising to the level of requiring a more formal resolution.
Another question, will this ordeal bring down more than Rangel's reputation, but also something that is already pretty low, public confidence?

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