Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rangel's Walkout Epitomizes All That's Wrong With Congressional Ethics

Rep. Charles Rangel walked out of his ethics trial yesterday claiming that he didn't have the time or money to seek legal counsel.

That's, of course, complete nonsense since Rangel was on the record as demanding that his case be expedited. Rangel could have sold any number of properties to put up as collateral - including the villa in the Dominican Republic that opened the door to the world of Rangel's malfeasance more than two years ago. No one is denying Rangel counsel except that it suits Rangel to claim that this is about fairness to him when it is the American public who has been denied fairness by Rangel's disregard for the law.

Moreover, Congressional leaders delayed the trial until after the midterm elections - giving Rangel still more time than should have otherwise been granted under the circumstances.

After all, this is a festering morass of malfeasance that has been ongoing for more than two years. Congress has refused to take action until now, and even though the facts are uncontested, the most that Congress will do is give Rangel a slap on the wrist.

Congressional Democrats want to claim that these were nothing more than technical errors in accounting and paperwork oversights. That ignores that Rangel broke state and federal tax law by regularly underreporting his taxes - all while Rangel was the Chair of the very committee that oversees tax policy for the country.

Such tax evasion is punishable by stiff fines and if it was found to be willful, even jail time. In addition to other penalties and interest, Chapter 75 §§7201-7344 of the IRC lays out the penalties and fines for various tax malfeasance. Willful failure to pay or report taxes is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and five years in prison. Fraudulent returns are subject to up to $10,000 in fines and up to 1 year in prison. That's no minor matter or paperwork oversight. Rangel's tax malfeasance went on for the better part of a decade and gives rise to the specter of purposeful and willful tax underreporting.

Throw in the potential conflicts of interest of various lobbying groups, using Congressional letterhead for lobbying and violating New York law by using rent stabilized apartments for office space, and you've got a pattern of disregard for the law and rules.

A slap on the wrist is insufficient, but that's all that Congress will dole out. That says as much about Congress as it does about Rangel.

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