Putting The Rangel Ethics Conviction In Ethical Perspective

One would think after 50 years of public service Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-New York) might have gamed the system for more than what the House Ethics Committee convicted him.

Rangel, the gravel-voiced nattily dressed Harlem congressman, was not a crook in the criminal sense. Rather, Blake Chisam, the committee prosecutor, suggested, the congressman was “overzealous” and “sloppy in his personal finances.”

The committee convicted the 20-term Rangel on 11 counts of breaking House ethics rules. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last spring stripped Rangel from his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.

The sentence will be mild compared to the self-inflicted wounds Charlie has done to himself.

One might say Rangel went down in flames Monday as the television voice overs described the pol “storming” out of the committee hearing room because he could not afford legal counsel.

May I be so bold as say 80-year-old pols don’t physically “storm” out of much of anything. Rather, the proud man stood erect, carried the brief of charges against him to an aide, and left the room a disgraced human being.

Charlie found himself spending by his account $2 million on lawyers spread out over 2 1/2 years with the last firm walking out on him.

By my accounting, that exceeded whatever Rangel may have gained in perks and sloppy reporting that benefited a man in the exalted position he obviously saw himself. And I am guessing the cost by the House Ethics prosecutor and staff came close to that amount, likewise.

For what?

The congressional panel, sitting as a jury, found that Rangel had used House stationery and staff to solicit money for a New York college center named after him. It also concluded he solicited donors for the center with interests before the Ways and Means Committee, leaving the impression the money could influence official actions.

He also was found guilty of failing to disclose at least $600,000 in assets and income in a series of inaccurate reports to Congress; using a rent-subsidized New York apartment for a campaign office, when it was designated for residential use; and failure to report to the IRS rental income from a housing unit in a Dominican Republic resort.

When Charles Rangel first entered the halls of Congress 40 years ago he couldn’t eat lunch with the white folks because of unwritten rules of segregation.

And committee chairmen milked the perk system dry if not worse than Rangel now finds himself convicted.

But times, they have changed. Perception trumps substance. Charlie didn’t adjust.

It seems to me if illusions are all that important, why is it perfectly reasonable to accept millions of dollars in anonymous campaign donations to vote in favor of a project those same lobbyists support.

That, to me, is more of an ethical issue facing elected officials than abuse of power that satisfies an old pol’s ego.

I hate to say it but what I read, see and hear, most people would be surprised if elected officials in Rangel’s position didn’t do what he did.

We live in a cynical society.

(Photo courtesy Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Cross posted on The Remmers Report

Comments are welcome. Link to my blogsite or go to my email address at [email protected] . Remmers’ varied career spans 26 years in the newspaper business.

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Author: JERRY K. REMMERS, TMV Columnist

Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.