Ethics Panel to Clear Rangel?


House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel predicted, on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program that aired Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009, that his multitude of ethics woes would soon disappear. “I think that next Tuesday you will see a break in this and as soon as the Ethics Committee organizes they ought to be able to dismiss this,” National Journal’s CongressDaily quoted the Rangel as saying.

If so, it’s hard to imagine that the Select Committee on Ethics will have devoted anything more than a cursory glance at the various issues raised. Consider just one aspect, for which documents are in the public record: Rangel’s financial disclosure forms. We took a look at his filings going all the way back to 1978, the first year members were required to disclose information on their personal finances, and found 28 instances in which he failed to report acquiring, owning or disposing of assets. Assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 appear or disappear with no disclosure of when they were acquired, how long they were held, or when they were sold, as the operative House rules at the time required.

In September 2008, Rangel announced he was hiring a forensic accountant to review 20 years of his financial records, including his financial disclosure forms and his tax returns. The Washington Post has a nice overview of some of the issues raised.

In his calendar year 2006 filing, for example, Rangel reported 13 investments, mostly in mutual funds, which he valued in a range between $54,013 and $286,000, without indicating when he acquired them. In that same year, a quartet of assets that he reported acquiring in 2004 and worth between $95,004 and $250,000, disappeared from his filing without any indication of whether they were sold or exchanged.

The count is based solely on what Rangel disclosed in his filings. It does not include obvious omissions–he failed to disclose his book deal with MacMillan, which published his memoir And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since as an arrangement, nor did he disclose as income any advance or royalties he might have received from the book, which was published in April 2007. The count also does not include instances in which Rangel later corrected inaccurate filings, which he did on several occasions. For example, his original financial disclosure form for calendar year 1990, omitted what had been his principal asset through the 1980s and 1990s, an apartment building on W. 174th St. in New York. On May 15, 1991, the same day he filed the disclosure report, he advised the Ethics Committee in a letter accompanying his filing that the property produced a loss. On June 4, 1991, he sent the committee a second letter, stating that the building in fact had produced rental income between $15,001 and $50,000.

Because we focused on omissions from the filings, we also didn’t include as an error the Florida property Rangel disclosed selling twice (in 2006 and in 2007). Also, we looked only at the reporting of assets and not income–rents, interest and dividends–or trips, in which other inaccuracies have been reported.

We used disclosures from the Center for Responsive Politics from 1995 to the present, and from the Law Library of the Library of Congress.

Rangel’s office did not respond to requests for clarification and additional information on the filings, saying that they would not comment while the ethics investigation was ongoing. Rangel pledged to release 20 years worth of tax returns when the probe is complete.