Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shades of Pay to Play

I can't say that I'm surprised by any of this.
High-ranking members of Congress were flown to a lush Caribbean resort this month for a three-day conference planned and paid for by several of the country's most powerful corporations - a violation of federal ethics rules, critics say.

Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus attended the 13th annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference in sun-drenched St. Maarten, including embattled Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel and New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne.

Three New York City officials attended, including Comptroller William Thompson and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., as well as Gov. Paterson, who was the keynote speaker at a luncheon on the second day of the gathering.

The politicians were seen by The Post during the Nov. 6-9 conference, walking among the palm trees on the breezy grounds of the sprawling, terra cotta Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino.

Paterson's office said he'd paid for his own travel and lodging during his visit. But other legislators enjoyed free airfare, meals and hotel rooms covered by the trip's organizer - and paid for by donations from corporations such as IBM, AT&T, Verizon, Citigroup, Pfizer, Macy's and American Airlines, a Post investigation discovered.

Officials with those companies were observed at the conference - sometimes acting as featured speakers at daily seminars and freely mingling among the pols at social events. Citigroup - which just last week received a massive bailout from the federal government - was one of the conference's biggest sponsors, ponying up $100,000 to help finance the event, according to one of the lobbyists at the gathering.
Nor can I say that I'm surprised to see none other than Charles Rangel's name appears in conjunction with shady and possibly unethical dealings.

These companies are doing what they think is necessary to survive the current business climate, but it raises serious ethical questions for the politicians who attended, especially those who apparently were feted with free airfare and accommodations. And that's where things get interesting:
according to House ethics rules, members of Congress and their staffs cannot accept multiday trips from a corporation that "employs or retains a registered lobbyist. Included in this limitation are companies, firms, non-profit organizations (including charities), and other private entities that retain or employ a lobbyist."

Though the conference's organizer is listed as New York City-based Carib News Foundation, that group pays for the event through donations from private, for-profit companies.

Furthermore, according to House rules, members of Congress must seek prior written permission from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to take free multiday trips. They must also file reports with the Clerk of the House of Representatives listing all financial sponsors within two weeks of each trip.

The filings for the St. Maarten trip were due last Monday. But as of that date, only Rep. Payne's filings were available.

A spokesman for Rangel said his disclosure forms were submitted last Monday - but by the end of the week his filing hadn't turned up in the database of the Clerk of the House.
Rangel is already embroiled in multiple ethics inquiries and tax questions, yet his filing on this particular matter is missing in action? How is that possible? You would think that he would do whatever it takes to show that he's adhering to the House rules and guidelines to avoid any further scrutiny, and yet his filing is the one that has gone missing. It's curious how that happens.

Rep. Payne's filings omit key details, including who actually sponsored the events, and it's all too clear that he knew, or should have known that major corporations including Citigroup and Verizon were involved.

What exactly was to be gained by these politicians going to the Caribbean besides a free trip, and what did these corporations hope to gain from their largess?

Keep in mind that Congress passed stricter rules that prohibited free trips from any group that receives money from any entity that employs lobbyists. That included charitable groups. Supposedly there's a zero-tolerance rule in effect, but I await to see any action taken against Rangel or any of the other members of Congress who violated the rules.

I will be probably waiting a good long time before action is taken against Rangel on this matter; it will be January before Congress takes action on all of Rangel's other ethics matters that are currently under investigation, to say nothing of the ongoing tax flap.

UPDATE 12/1/2008:
Instapundit links. Thanks!

For those interested in the ongoing saga with Rangel, see here. Also, Jammie has been keeping tabs on Rangel's tax and ethics misadventures.

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