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Rangel Scandal Reveals Extent of Capitol Corruption

A Commentary By Howard Rich

Friday, August 06, 2010

Four years ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington, D.C., but after failing miserably to do so it now appears she’s choosing to ignore it – while letting her colleagues sweep it under the rug.

In the latest example of this trend, a House ethics panel last week recommended that Rep. Charlie Rangel be “reprimanded” for a laundry list of corruption charges.  Rangel, a Democrat who has been in the House for forty years, is facing a battery of serious allegations which, if proven, should cost the career lawmaker his job – if not land him in jail.

Rangel is accused of failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets on his financial disclosure statements – a pattern of alleged evasion that spans nearly a decade.  Additionally, he’s accused of failing to pay taxes on income generated from his vacation property in the Dominican Republic, using taxpayer-funded resources for campaign purposes and abusing his free Congressional mail privilege to solicit donations.

On top of all that, Rangel reportedly accepted political favors from donors who received favorable treatment from him during his tenure as Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee – which oversees tax policy, trade issues, Medicare and Social Security, among other responsibilities.

Every bit as troubling as Rangel’s alleged conduct, though, is the attempt by his colleagues to completely let him off the hook – and to do so quickly in an effort to avoid any lingering bad press leading up to the November elections.  Despite of the gravity of his alleged offenses (including several Rangel has admitted to committing) House ethics members have recommended letting him off with only a “reprimand.”

What’s that, exactly?

Well, it’s nothing more than a vote of the House of Representatives expressing “displeasure” with the conduct of one of its members.  In fact it’s an even milder slap on the wrist than a censure resolution, which would at least require Rangel to stand before his colleagues and receive their admonition in person prior to continuing on in his bad behavior.

Far from “draining the swamp” of corruption, this sort of politically-motivated whitewashing only emboldens it.

Asked about the Rangel investigation last week, Pelosi claimed that she was “out of the loop.” She added that she would have to “wait and see what the committee decides,” and refused to rule out the possibility that Rangel might even return as Ways and Means Chairman one day.

So much for “restoring integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C.” and running “the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history,” which Pelosi promised to do four years ago.

Now, it appears that evading responsibility and professing ignorance when confronted with embarrassing scandals is Pelosi’s new modus operandi .  In fact, she employed a similar approach earlier this year when it was revealed that former Rep. Eric Massa – another New York Democrat – resigned his office due to allegations of sexual harassment made by male staff members.

In addition to the Massa and Rangel scandals, Pelosi must also address allegations that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) – a career politician who has held office for more than three decades – helped steer bailout funds to a bank in which her husband owns stock.  Like Rangel, Waters is facing an ethics trial in the House.

Will Waters’ scandal be swept under the rug as well so that Democrats can avoid additional bad press prior to the election?

That would certainly appear to be the emerging pattern.

Clearly neither party has proven capable of reforming – or restraining – the destructive forces that dominate decision-making Washington, D.C., but the promises of Pelosi ring especially hollow.  And absent draconian new ethics laws (that are actually enforced) and real reforms – like term limits – the swamp that has infested our nation’s capital will never be drained.

Howard Rich is Chairman of Americans for Limited Government .

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.  

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