Friday, July 30, 2010

Is That How You Act With Integrity?

So my Congresswoman is Representative Nancy Pelosi. Aside from sharing a name with a math teacher who struck fear in the hearts of many who went to my school, there was very little that I have agreed on with this woman in the past four years. However, the one thing I did like to think she was serious about was dealing with corruption in the House of Representatives.

Today, however, it has become clear that she clearly is not. Otherwise, how did she allow the Rangel mess to happen?

Yes. She did allow an investigation to forward. She did all charges to be heard by the House Committee on Ethics. But where was the leadership to call for more than just a reprimand if he is found guilty?

In case you have not been following this story, Charles B. Rangel is the Democrat who has been the Representative for what is now known as the 15th Congressional District in New York. Essentially, it is the borough of Harlem. He has been the Representative of that district since 1971.

Beginning in 2008, there were rumblings that something un-kosher was happening with Rangel. Oddly enough, it seemed to begin when he was questioned for his use of Congressional letterhead when he was soliciting donors for the Charles B Rangel Center for Public Service was improper. When that became public, the media started to question some other things that Congressman Rangel was doing. This included four apartments that he rented for substantially below market rent, the failure to report income on his taxes for property (sometimes described as a villa) in the Dominican Republic which he leases out, as well as other non-reporting and under-reporting of income to the IRS.

And this is the man who is the chairman of the committee which oversees the Federal Tax code.

In fact, he had so grossly underreported his income and holdings, that when he was finally forced to revising his reporting statements in 2007, his network went up by $500,000. That's a half a million dollars.

For some reason, the IRS, although Rangel did pay his back taxes, did not require the payment of any of the fees and penalties. A sweetheart deal is the kindest thing that can be said about that. Although he paid the federal taxes, it appears that he still could not get around to doing what everyone else in this country is supposed to do: pay all their owed taxes. Apparently, he has not been paying some of his property taxes as well as some other taxes. Its hard to tell really when pinning down his assets is like trying to catch a money launderer.

However, there's still more to the story.

Not content to ... hell let's be charitable and call it "fudge" .... his tax returns and required financial disclosures, he also seemed to have been hitting up donors in improper ways and accepting improper gifts from industries and interests which are directly overseen by his committee. By the way, that would be Ways and Means (which he chairs). He is also a member of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

One of these ways was Diageo Rum Bailout. Essentially, Rangel is alleged to have arranged a quid pro quo with Diageo Plc. Diageo, maker of Captain Morgan rum, wanted to qualify for federal funds out of the TARP which was being put together at that time. As reported, at first Representative Rangel met with them but did not give them the support they needed. However, for some reason, this support suddenly materialized. At about the same time, a hefty campaign contribution materialized in Representative Rangel's campaign coffers.

Lets be clear about something. At this point, 2009, the Democrats were firmly in control of the House of Representatives. Yet Speaker Pelosi was content to sit back and not push this forward.

Is it too much to expect a leader of one of the branches of our government to root out corruption, even within their own party? Judging by Speaker Pelosi's lackadaisical handling of the situation, it appears so.

Finally, almost two years since the first, allegations were made, charges were finally brought before the House Ethics Committee. The June 17 charging document lists out the following charges:

  • Violating Solicitation and Gift Ban (5 USC 7353)
  • Violating Code of Ethics for Government Services (72 Stat., Part 2, B12, H. Re. 175, 85th Cong. (1958)).
  • Violation of House Gift Rule (House of Representative Rule XXIII)
  • Violation of Postal Service Laws and Franking Commission Regulation (39 USC 3215)
  • Violation of Franking Statute (18 USC 1719)
  • Violation of House Office Building Commission's Regulations (House Office Building Commission's Regulation, cl. 4)
  • Conduct in Violation of the Purpose Law and Member's Congressional Handbook (31 USC 1301; 2 USC 57, Member's Congressional Handbook, p. 6)
  • Conduct in Violation of Letterhead Rule (House Rule XXIII, cl 11)
  • Conduct in Violation of Ethics in Government Act and House Rule XXVI (5 USC 101 et seq.; House Rule XXVI)
  • Conduct in Violation of Code of Ethics for Government Service, cl. 5 (72 Stat., Part 2, B12, H. Res. 175, 85th Cong. (1958)
  • Conduct in Violation of Code of Ethics of Government Service, cl. 2
  • Conduct in Violation of Code of Conduct: Letter and Spirit of House Rules
  • Conduct in Violation of the Code of Conduct: Conduct Reflecting Discreditably on the House

Basically, what these charges boil down to is that Representative Rangel has stolen from the tax-payer, failed to pay his taxes, and treated some constituents better than others because of favors they have given him (where I come from, we call it bribery), and that because he was caught with his hand in the till, his actions reflect badly on the House of Representatives.

After hemming and hawing about this issue for more than a month, it was announced today that House Committee was approving these charges and forwarding it to a sub-committee for trial. All well and good. However, they did not stop there. Although there will be a trial, the committee announced that it was only allowing a maximum punishment of a reprimand.

Let's see, he gets to not pay taxes for years and avoid any punishment. Then he follows it up with a litany of ethics violations where his punishment is capped at the second lowest possible punishment the House can give. As the New York Post reports,

"The House ethics investigatory subcommittee recommended that Rep. Charlie Rangel be reprimanded, which is the least severe punishment, according to a new report".
Here's my question Madame Speaker: Why are you allowing this happen? If it is your intention to actually drain the "swamp" of corruption on Capitol Hill, why are you allowing someone to flagrantly violate multiple laws and House rules without evening slapping him on the wrist.

To allow this is to make a mockery of justice. Its just a chance to look good without achieving any real difference. If Congressman and Senators know that they will not have to worry about being penalized, what is to stop them essentially accepting bribes.

We try and enact laws to prevent money from corrupting the system. Yet, when the people are corrupted by it, we allow them to skate on by. In this case, based on the supporting documents which have been presented to the house Committee, Representative Rangel was accepting campaign contributions in return for his help. Essentially, he was taking a bribe. Yet, rather than prosecute this man, the House of Representatives wants to hush it under the table.

The media is saying that Speaker Pelosi is only giving him a "tepid" defense. Why should he even rate that much? The evidence shows that this man is a crook. If not for the protection offered by his position as an elected official, he would be facing a real trial not the cozy watered down version that seems to be promised.

The money, the trips, the temptation is always going to be there. Rather than trying to restrict free speech, we need to punish those who give in to temptation.

But Madame Speaker seems content to sit back. She is content to allow a back room deal to be struck so that business can go on as usual.

And that, is not acting with integrity.

1 comment:

Colby said...

Oh my goodness. I didn't realize he didn't have to pay penalties and late fees. That's just rude. I'm just now beginning to catch up on my Mom's unfiled taxes and am sure I have liens to look forward to on her house - which the sale of we've counted on for her long term care. Good stuff. She should've been a Congresswoman.