- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rep. Charles B. Rangel took the unusual step Wednesday of filing an ethics complaint against himself, hoping an ethics probe will allay criticism he abused his office by using congressional stationery to solicit funds for a college center that bears his name.

In a letter to the ethics committee, the New York Democrat requested a determination of “whether I may have inadvertently failed to comply with House ethics rules regarding the use of congressional letterhead.”

Mr. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been pummeled in recent weeks by news reports suggesting he abused the power of his office by fundraising for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York and by leasing four rent-controlled apartments in New York, including one used as a campaign office.

“There has never been, is not and never would be any personal financial gain to me or my family from the successful completion of the center,” he said in the letter to the ethics committee.

“I also believed, rightly or wrongly, that it was in the public interest and thus ‘official,’ not ‘personal’ business, for me to facilitate these meetings and to assist CCNY in completing this important new public institution and, therefore, congressional letterhead was appropriate for such a purpose,” he said.

He did not request a probe of his lavish housing arrangements, although the ethics committee could expand the scope of the probe if it takes up an investigation.

At a press conference last week, Mr. Rangel insisted his relatively inexpensive apartments in Harlem’s Lenox Terrace building was from living a long time in the same rent-controlled units and not from sweetheart deals.

The committee has 45 days to make a determination regarding Mr. Rangel’s complaint.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group that condemned Mr. Rangel’s fundraising for the center as blatantly unethical, doubted ethics committee members would act against a fellow lawmaker.

The inquiry will do “nothing because the ethics committee does nothing,” CREW spokeswoman Naomi Seligman said. “That’s what they do best: Nothing.”

House members, wary of retribution, rarely file ethics complaints against colleagues. Mr. Rangel could be among the first to file a complaint against himself.

Republicans have long criticized Mr. Rangel’s connection to the college center, which they derided as a “monument to me” after he secured earmarks last year for more than $2 million in federal funding for the project.

The center, which is located in Mr. Rangel’s Harlem district, is aimed at attracting young people from diverse racial and economic backgrounds to study public service. It also will house a library of Mr. Rangel’s legislative papers from his more than 40 years in politics.

He said that the letters on congressional stationery never explicitly asked for donations, but instead sought to set up meetings where funding would be solicited.

Since June 2005, Mr. Rangel sent about 100 fundraising letters to such financial heavyweights as Donald Trump and Hank Greenberg, former chief executive of American International Group, or AIG.

“Was my hope that these meetings would result in making financial donations to this important project with such an important public purpose? Of course,” Mr. Rangel wrote. “But I genuinely believed that by not soliciting or making any reference to donations … I was not violating House ethics rules.”

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