Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rangel's Tripping

photo via the NY Post
Where to begin with the mess that is Rep. Charles Rangel's financial and ethical morass? The Harlem democrat keeps finding himself on the wrong side of ethical and legal quandaries.

There is the use of rent stabilized homes as a campaign office, which violated state law.

There is the repeatedly failed to disclose income from a Punta Cana villa on his state and federal income tax returns. He claims that he will repay the amounts, plus interest and fees/penalties, which he claims is about $5,000 to the state and a similar amount to the IRS. If I were advising both the state and federal tax authorities, I'd be calling for an audit on both. I simply cannot take Rangel's word on his tax returns, especially as he was busy trying to first throw his wife under the proverbial bus. It turns out that he's reconciled with his wife after considering a divorce. If the divorce had been granted, his wife could have testified against Rangel, likely revealing far worse misdeeds.

Now, we learn that Rangel is busy taking junkets on lobbyist money without declaring it under the new Congressional ethics rules.
Seeking to crack down on a rash of lobbyist-sponsored junkets for elected officials, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has changed its rules on travel. The panel prohibited members of Congress from accepting free trips financed "in any part by a lobbyist" or major corporation.

Members must now seek written permission for any privately financed trip. If the committee sees any evidence of lobbyist financing, it will simply veto the trip, according to the new ethics rules.

But Rangel still accepted a trip worth thousands of dollars to the Sandals Grande Resort and Spa in Antigua and Barbuda last November, after the new rules had passed.

AT&T, HSBC, Sandals and Pfizer were listed as "sponsors" of the conference, which was organized by a group called NY Carib News Foundation. In his 2007 federal filing on the trip, Rangel listed the Carib News Foundation, but failed to disclose that the trip was financed by corporations.

At this year's conference, set to take place at the posh Sonesta Maho Beach Resort in St. Maarten in November, Rangel is the main attraction, according to the conference's Web site - but the congressman has yet to seek written permission for the junket from the Ethics Committee.

Since 1999, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has been among the keynote speakers at the annual Caribbean business conference, organized by Karl Rodney, a Jamaica-born businessman and founder of Carib News, a weekly newspaper aimed at Caribbean immigrants.

Rangel is not alone in his failure to properly disclose the trips under the new rules. The Post found that other Democratic lawmakers who were wined and dined at the conference last November had yet to disclose the junket on their federal filings for 2007.

The trips usually last about four days, including food and lodging at five-star resorts, and in some cases golf courses and spas, throughout the Caribbean.
It is quite telling that the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee doesn't bother paying attention to the rules, including the tax law (which he helps write in his Committee) and the ethics rules. Of course, it's systemic in that other Democrats don't seem to know the rules either.

Rangel has accumulated the sixth highest amount of PAC money among all members in the House for reelection purposes even though he's never had a credible opponent in the general or primary elections. All that money ends up getting funneled to other Democrats around the country.

Rangel clearly believes that the rules do not apply to him. Then again, it's not entirely clear whether he has a command of the facts either - as he keeps changing facts and figures to the point where no one quite knows what's going on, including Rep. Pelosi, who claimed a higher figure for the villa than had previously been disclosed. Maybe that's all part of a plan to keep him out of trouble, but it should be reason enough for Pelosi to send him packing as the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

His blunders keep adding up, and they're all on one side of the ledger - shorting the taxpayers by not paying his fair share of income or taking advantage of programs meant for low and moderate income families.

As always, follow the money.

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