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August 2nd, 2010
Congressional Black Caucus

In 2008, Charlie Rangel improperly controlled four rent-stabilized units in a luxury Harlem building and had used official congressional letterhead to mail donor solicitations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.
His ethics violations case later expanded to include;
- Rangel’s failure to pay taxes on rental income on a Dominican Island resort home,
- failure to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in income on his annual disclosure form
- and his intervention on a tax break for a million-dollar donor to the Rangel Center.

The question of whether black lawmakers are now being singled out for scrutiny has been simmering throughout the 111th Congress, with the Office of Congressional Ethics a focal point of the concerns.

On Thursday, the ethics committee hit Rangel with a 13-count Statement of Violation after a nearly two-year probe into his finances and failed attempts to strike a deal to avert formal charges.
But the investigation that cost him his House Ways and Means Committee gavel grew out of an OCE-initiated probe. While five of the other black Democrats eyed in the same affair ended up facing no sanctions from the ethics committee, Rangel was admonished in February for improperly taking corporate-funded trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008. In March, he took what he called a “leave of absence” as chairman of the committee.


Waters’s case was referred by OCE to the ethics committee for further investigation as well, and a special four-member investigative subcommittee has found that the California Democrat violated as-yet-unspecified House rules.
While the Statement of Alleged Violation against Waters has not yet been released, she has been under investigation by the ethics committee regarding reports that she intervened with the Treasury Department during the 2008 banking crisis on behalf of a minority bank in which her husband owned more than $250,000 in stock.
The initial probe into Waters’s case was launched by OCE, which recommended that she undergo a full investigation by the ethics committee.


Other black Democrats who have found themselves in ethics or legal trouble in recent years include: former Rep. Frank Ballance (N.C.), who went to federal prison in 2005 after being convicted on federal fraud and money laundering charges; former Rep. Earl Hilliard (Ala.), who was found by the ethics committee in 2002 to have improper used campaign funds; and Rep. Corrine Brown (Fla.), who was investigated but cleared in 2000 over the gift of a car to her daughter and other allegations.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) has come under Justice Department investigation over his role in the Rod Blagojevich scandal. Blagojevich, the impeached Illinois governor, is awaiting a verdict in his trial on a host of federal corruption charges, including allegations that he tried to “sell” the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he was elected president.
The then-governor was taped shortly before his arrest telling his chief of staff that a Jackson fundraiser had offered to raise $1.5 million for Blagojevich’s reelection campaign if the congressman were appointed to the Senate seat. Jackson has vehemently denied any impropriety.
Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), the only African-American in the Senate, was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee last Nov. for making "incorrect, inconsistent, misleading or incomplete information" over his appointment by Blagojevich to Obama's seat."

A lot of people have been raising concerns [about the OCE], and I support them,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told The Hill newspaper in October. “At some point in the not-so-distant future, these concerns will have to be addressed.”

“House Democrats are paying a price for OCE’s focus on black lawmakers,” added a Democratic insider close to House leaders.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that voters are going to see two African-Americans on trial in the House while they see no action against white members with ethical problems.”

The racism charge, though, was rejected by Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an ethics watchdog group, even as she acknowledged the current situation is bound to anger black lawmakers.
 
Sloan noted that several white lawmakers, including Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), are currently under investigation by federal and congressional investigators. Ensign is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee and the Justice Department over the fallout from an extramarital affair he had with the wife of a top aide, while Visclosky and his former chief of staff are being probed over their ties to a now-defunct lobbying firm raided by the feds last year.

“There are ethics problems within the CBC,” she said. “They have to acknowledge that."

Ten House Democrats have either fully or conditionally called for Rangel’s resignation, but the veteran lawmaker huddled with the CBC and members of the New York House delegation Friday and shows no signs of stepping down, even after the president said in an interview aired Sunday that the veteran Harlem lawmaker should end his career “with dignity.”

Like Rangel, Waters has decided to contest the charges in a trial by a panel of ethics committee members. Both trials could start in September unless agreements are reached to end the proceedings, presenting an embattled Democratic majority with the spectacle of two senior black Democrats publicly battling with their colleagues over ethics violations in the midst of the midterm campaigns.

(POLITICO)
 


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