Ethics Committee’s Actions on Rangel Better Late Than Never

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  • Dale Eisman

Voters deserve a cleaner system

The legal/ethical questions surrounding Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) have festered for far too long. The outline of the allegations made public Thursday has been apparent for two years; given Mr. Rangel’s reported cooperation in the investigation there is no good reason why it should have taken so long to either charge or clear him. The House needs to find a better way to police itself fairly AND promptly.

Finally, however, the Ethics Committee has acted. If a Congressman with Mr. Rangel’s seniority can be hauled before the bar, every member has reason to take care to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

“Charlie Rangel is a much beloved member of Congress who has had a distinguished career,” said Bob Edgar, Common Cause’s president. “As a former colleague and longtime friend, I’m saddened by the charges against him. “Those charges however, should remind every member, in both political parties, of the danger in their reliance on large campaign contributions from corporate political committees and trade groups,” Edgar added.

Even if given and accepted in good faith, such donations raise questions about special interest donors and political recipients alike. What does the former want and what has the latter promised? In Mr. Rangel’s case, one of the charges against him apparently involves his role in protecting a tax loophole enjoyed by an oil executive who is among his campaign donors.

Mr. Rangel is obviously entitled to his day in court, and without delay. But his situation highlights the need for a new campaign finance system, one that shifts the focus of political fundraising to small contributions from individuals. The Fair Elections Now Act, pending in both houses of Congress and co-sponsored by nearly 200 members, is the blueprint for such a system. Congress should pass it immediately.