Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel won his crowded primary last night despite being under investigation on multiple ethics charges.
What does this say exactly? Congressmen don’t typically pay the price electorally until after they’ve been found guilty.
Rep. William Jefferson lost reelection only after he was found guilty of accepting bribes. In 1994 Dan Rostenkowski lost reelection after he was sentenced for improper use of office expenses. (The Democratic Party couldn’t replace him on the ballot in time.) Rep. Jim Traficant ran as an independent and lost from his jail cell after being convicted of graft and bribery and subsequently expelled from Congress.
Reps. Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and Randy “Duke” Cunningham all resigned from Congress rather than face an electorate. Ney and Cunningham wound up in prison. DeLay had the charges against him dropped. Rep. John Doolittle won reelection in 2006 despite being under investigation in the Jack Abramoff scandal, but announced the he would not seek reelection in 2008.
Most of these people were under investigation or found guilty by the Department of Justice. Rangel is simply facing ethics charges within the House of Representatives. He won’t be tried for crimes and sentenced to prison. Instead he will be judged and sentenced by his peers with only a few outcomes: admonishment, reprimand, censure or expulsion.
Others have gone taken hits by the ethics committee and kept on chugging. Rep. Barney Frank was reprimanded in 1987 and is still in Congress. Rep. Charlie Wilson was censured in 1980 and continued to get reelected into the 1990s. Rep. Gerry Studds was censured in 1983 and served until 1997.
Looking at the historic record it isn’t surprising that Rangel held on. He’s still very popular in his district and will likely continue to be even if he is found guilty of the charges brought against him.