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What's Next for Rangel?

This hasn't been the greatest week for House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). On Friday, he was on the front page of the New York Times in a story about his occupying four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, three for his residence and one for a campaign office. Today, he was on the front page of the Washington Post for having solicited contributions from interests with business before his committee for a foundation named after him.

A good rule of thumb for any politician: Try not to make the front page of two major papers over two separate sets of ethical questions in the same week.

The veteran New York lawmaker took a step this morning to address the charges in the first story by reportedly deciding to move his campaign office out of one of those rent-stabilized apartments. The Times reports that there are "city and state guidelines that require rent-stabilized apartments to be used solely as a primary residence." Beyond that apparently clear misstep, Rangel has defended his living arrangment and denied that he is abusing any laws or regulations. There is no obvious basis for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to launch an investigation of the apartment issue, unless it can be shown that Rangel's rental rates constitute an improper gift from the building's owner and/or that he took some official action in exchange for the apartments.

As for today's Post story, which you should read in full and in which Rangel again denies any wrongdoing, the ethics outlook is less clear.

The first thing to note is that many lawmakers steer federal money to entities named after them. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), for example, both have Centers for Disease Control buildings named after them, and they control the Appropriations subcommittee that sets the CDC's budget. The Anchorage airport is named after Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), and so on. Steering taxpayer money to a project that will be named after you is not, by itself, a violation of any ethics rules, even if it might be a distasteful practice to many critics.

The second point to consider is that many lawmakers run charitable foundations, whose donors don't have to be disclosed publicly, and several have "centers" named after them headquartered at colleges and universities for which they raise money, like the upcoming Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. There's the McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville, the Lott Leadership Institute at the University of Mississippi and the Murtha Educational Center at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, just to name a few.

The most obvious potential red flag for Rangel in the Post story is the fact that he used congressional stationery to set up meetings with potential donors to the center at City College. The letters to potential donors cited don't actually mention money or donations, only that Rangel would like to "discuss" his "vision" for the center with the recipient.

The House ethics manual says that official House resources, specifically including stationery, "must be used for the performance of official business of the House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes." The manual later states, "Official stationery, like other official resources, may be used only for official purposes." Does Rangel's desire to discuss the new center constitute "official business"? And did Rangel ask for donations at any of the meetings arranged via these letters? The ethics panel might well want to find out.

But what about the fact that Rangel apparently solicited donations from companies and groups with interests before his committee? That's a murkier area.

Members regularly raise money from groups affected by the committees they sit on or chair, whether for their reelection campaigns or the aforementioned foundations and leadership centers. If that practice was banned, lawmaker fundraising might drop precipitously. The ethics committe has generally steered clear of cracking down on these types of donations, unless there is some clear-cut evidence of impropriety or quid pro quo (i.e. a letter that says, "If you give me X donation I will move Y bill through my committee"). In a controversial 2004 action, the ethics panel did send then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) a "letter of admonition" for a campaign fundraiser he held with energy companies, writing that "his actions, at a minimum, created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access to Representative DeLay regarding the then-pending energy legislation."

For an ethics investigation of Rangel to occur, either a fellow House member would have to file a formal complaint against him (which is highly unlikely) or the panel would have to decide on its own to launch a probe. It's important to note that Nov. 4 is less than four months away, and the ethics committe is usually hesitant to push forward with any probe too close to Election Day. A new Office of Congressional Ethics, designed to screen potential complaints from outside sources, is theoretically supposed to be up and running by now, but it isn't, because House leaders have yet to nominate anyone to run it. And according to Roll Call (sub req'd), the staff director of the ethics committee has told colleagues he will leave the post by early August to return to the private sector.

So while it certainly has been a rough week for Rangel, it's possible that things won't get much worse. There does appear to be enough fodder for an official probe of his actions, but the details of how and when such an investigation would be conducted remain unclear. In the meantime, Rangel might just want to try to stay off the front page for a little while.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 15, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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Next: Probe Closes In on Ex-Rep. Weldon


Why is Charles still in Congress?
Why do New York voters put up with this arrogance? Wake up Democrats? Is this the best you got?

Posted by: DNC | July 15, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

The reason Rangel is still in office is Rangel keeps getting re-elected because he is ranked #3 out of 435 in terms of power in the House of Representatives. Just by being the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee accords him (and his constitutents through his representations) a great deal of power. He has a power ranking (according to of 93.25 ranking only behind Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer. In New York State, the second most powerful Representative is Nita Lowey at a lowly 37.77 score. And the people of Harlem would want to give up that power for a new representative who would certainly fall to the bottom of the chart at about say #400 with a power ranking score of 6.35?

Posted by: IBM | July 15, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Term limits would get rid of the Rangel
types sooner rather that later.

Posted by: boopmop | July 15, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

So please explain to me what is wrong with what Rangel is doing?

The rent stabilized apartments are not his fault, if it is allowed that he can own them, duh. Let the state worry about that. If they say he can't he can't, but then why has he been able to do it, if he wasn't supposed to? It isn't his fault, its the state and city's fault for letting this happen. And there is probably nothing wrong with this.

After the McCain affair article what real credibility does the New York Times have? It has none. It's rag.

And as for the Center, I think its a fabulous idea. The Center is going to train leaders in public administration. Isn't this what colleges are supposed to do? Train leaders. So what if they named it after Rangel. He got the money for it, he should get it named after him. That isn't unusual, and there is nothing wrong with it. The point of the center, is not the name, the point of the center is to train leaders. Rangel has been a tireless public servant for his entire life, from the military to congress, he deserves it, bottom line. If it was named after someone eles, than I would protest.

The schools of journalism where these reporters came from would be named after them, if only they could do or print something with substance.

Is it me or does the media only look at the negative side of things.

Rangel should be admired for a center that trains leaders in Public Administration.

Thanks for making the future a brighter place Mr. Rangel.

Posted by: Brian | July 15, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

The rent stabilized apartments are not his fault, if it is allowed that he can own them, duh. Let the state worry about that. If they say he can't he can't, but then why has he been able to do it, if he wasn't supposed to?
He does not 'own' the apartments, he is renting them. It is also wrong to run an office from them, they are not for business purpose. He got away with it for so long because no one asked until the Times did. It's also not a State issue, they are handled by the City.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Chairman Rangel always the first to go after corporate execs who enjoy "perks" and take more than a common employee? Now we find he has been taking advantage of a program designed for poor people and taking up space that could house a low income mom and her kids. Shame on him and shame on those who think it is OK.

Posted by: Jack | July 15, 2008 6:15 PM | Report abuse

The apartment owner can charge him whatever they want, but if they charge him less than fair market value, the difference should be considered an in-kind campaign contribution.

Posted by: Vatar | July 15, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I see Republicans oppose education, again.

It's usually not so blatant. Maybe because they're educating mostly blacks there.

Posted by: There Again | July 15, 2008 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Being paranoid, I am wondering if these sudden revelations might be Clinton payback for Rangel's role in getting HRC to suspend her campaign?

Posted by: Texas | July 15, 2008 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Statement on Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service from The City College of New York

July 15, 2008

The City College of New York is proud to house the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service, named after one of America's most distinguished public servants. The Center will help prepare students in our new bachelors and masters programs in public administration - particularly underrepresented minority students - for leadership positions in public service. It will enrich their preparation by providing scholarship, internship and research opportunities as well as hosting conferences on best practices in bring underrepresented groups into public service and other topics.

The Charles B. Rangel Library, centered on Congressman Rangel's archives from more than 40 years in public service, will be an important center for scholarship. In the long tradition of university centers like the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at The University of Michigan, the Rangel Center will provide our students with an important, inspirational role model and serve as a national center for promoting greater diversity in public service.

List Schools of Public Affairs and Other Facilities at Colleges and Universities Named for Elected Officials, by State

Clinton School of Public Service, University of Arkansas

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, University of California Los Angeles

Reuben O'D. Askew School of Public Policy, Florida State University
Claude Pepper Center for Intercultural Dialogue, Florida State University

Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine

John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Tip O'Neill Library, Boston College

Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, The University of Michigan

Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri, Columbia

New Jersey
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

New York
Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University
The Rockefeller Center of Public Affairs, SUNY Albany
Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, Hudson Valley Community College
Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, SUNY Stony Brook

The John Glenn School of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University

H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University

South Carolina
Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs, Clemson University
Strom Thurmond Wellness & Fitness Center, University of South Carolina

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas, Austin

West Virginia
Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center, West Virginia University
Robert C. Byrd Center for Rural Health, Marshall University
Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, Shepherd University

Sources: National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, college and university websites, Wikipedia.

Ellis Simon
Director of Public Relations
The City College of New York

Posted by: Ellis Simon | July 16, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

When will we the people realize-what our elected tell us it is good for us, it means us not them. Should we really be surprised when we see things like this. Why is it when someone gets elected they place themselves above the law.

Posted by: Charlie | July 16, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

The use of letterhead to solicit contributions is a minor infraction. The idea of censure for politicians seeking to do good works with their names on it is a real hoot, however, as Ellis Simon's post (above) amply illustrates.

Ben Pershing seems to comprehend what the rent decontrol obsessed NY Times sidestepped in its 'scoop' - there was no demonstrable collusion or even communication between Rangel and his landlord. There was no 'exchange of gift for services.' There is no case for impropriety, over and out.

The curious coincidence that the NPLC and CREW - the former a conservative think tank attack dog, and the latter a progressive ethics watchdog - both timed attacks on Rangel in the same week, one in Washington and the other in New York, is potentially a much bigger story. The question is who gains? The answer is the hedge fund managers and hedge fund industry, which is attempting to chill talk of taxing hedges as ordinary income, a proposal championed by Rangel.

Posted by: BobMorganthau | July 16, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

So unless Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi and
the rest of the totally corrupt do nothing
Democrat Congress fail to Expell corrupt
Democrat Congressman Charles Rangel then
Pelosi and the Democrats deserve to be the
ones required to wear a Scarlet Letter "C"
for thier Democrat "Culture Of Corruption."
Face it the Pelosi,Hoyer,Reid,Obama and Rangel Democrats are even more Corrupt then
George W Bush and Draft Dodger Cheney.

Posted by: Sherry Kay | July 17, 2008 6:24 AM | Report abuse

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