Rangel hearing underscores seriousness of charges, and indicts fundraising system

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  • Dale Eisman

Today’s long-delayed release of detailed charges against Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), and Rep. Rangel’s written response, underscores the seriousness of the allegations – for Rep. Rangel and Congress.

“If Rep. Rangel has broken the law or violated House rules, he should be punished,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “If what he’s done is legal, the law should be changed.”

Mr. Rangel is accused of using his office and his position as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee to solicit corporate donations to the City College of New York (CUNY) for creation of a Center for Public Service that would bear his name. He also is charged with failing to report his campaign’s use of a rent-controlled apartment in New York and of failing to pay taxes on rental income from a Caribbean villa.

Mr. Rangel denies any wrongdoing, and he is certainly entitled to his day in court – in this case the House Ethics Committee. His defense appears to revolve at least in part around assertions that other prominent lawmakers have lent their names to other colleges and universities for similar centers and that any corporate gifts went not to him but to CUNY.

“It will be up to the Ethics Committee, and ultimately the full House, to determine Mr. Rangel’s fate,” said Edgar. “But regardless of the outcome of this case, voters should be concerned about a fundraising system in which corporate executives routinely gain access to members of Congress and their staffs by writing big checks – whether it is to a member’s campaign committee or his favorite charity. It’s hard to see a meaningful distinction between what Rep. Rangel allegedly did with CUNY and what members of Congress routinely do to raise campaign money.”

Common Cause is part of a coalition of organizations, the Campaign for Fair Elections, that is working to replace pay-to-play political financing with the Fair Elections Now Act (HR1826 and S 752). Under Fair Elections, candidates would run on a blend of Fair Elections funds and small contributions from individuals in their home states.