Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Almost immediately after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw down the gauntlet Jan. 17, 2006, saying Democrats “[w]ill create the most open and honest government in history,” would those words be put to the test. An FBI corruption sting turned up $90,000 in suspected bribe money in Rep. William Jefferson’s freezer. Rep. Allan Mollohan was embroiled in an FBI investigation into his real estate dealings and questionable appropriations to nonprofit groups, some of which he founded. While those probes involve serious allegations, none has been as important as the investigations and ethical lapses of Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

For 26 years, Mr. Rangel waited to become chairman of the tax-writing committee. Now, after his first term as chairman, Mr. Rangel is at war with himself.

1) On July 11, the New York Times reported the Harlem congressman had four rent-controlled apartments (with the fourth being used as a district office). Mr. Rangel called for an investigation of himself by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics Committee) into whether his rental arrangement constituted a gift that he hadn’t disclosed. A decision is due in January.

2) Mr. Rangel has admitted to improperly using congressional stationary to raise money for the construction of a City University of New York center to be named in his honor. Such solicitations are strictly forbidden under ethics rules.

3) In August, Mr. Rangel said he received $5,000 in rent from a beach-front villa he owned in the Dominican Republic but failed to report that income to the IRS and Congress. In September, he admitted to owing and paying $10,800 in back taxes and not declaring $75,000 in rental income earned on the property between 2004 and 2006.

4) D.C. tax officials said in November that Mr. Rangel received a Homestead-tax exemption from 1995 to 2000 for a house he owned on Colorado Avenue NW. The exemption applies only if the home is a primary residence. New York law requires a similar stipulaton regarding rent-controlled property. So which is it? Mr. Rangel’s primary residence is in New York or Mr. Rangel’s primary residence is in D.C.?

5) Politico reported last week that from 2004 to 2007, Mr. Rangel’s National Leadership PAC paid $79,560 to his son’s Edisonian Innovative Works LLC.

In an interview last week with the New York Post, Mr. Rangel said that Mrs. Pelosi told him, “I am her chairman of the Ways and Means Committee as long as I want to be.” Staffers for Mrs. Pelosi said she is awaiting the ethics committees’ report before she made a decision on whether to remove him from ways and means.

Several newspapers have called for Mr. Rangel to step down - and he should. But that would let Mrs. Pelosi off the hook. If Mrs. Pelosi is to be taken at her word - “the most open and honest government in history” - and if the public is to believe that she will enforce the rules equally, she must remove Mr. Rangel from his chairmanship.

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