In defense of Charlie Rangel: Does everybody do it?


Rep. Charles Rangel faces an adjudicatory hearing before the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct–better known as the House Ethics Committee–this morning. We'll are covering the whole hearing on Sunlight Live, delving into the charges of violations of ethics rules that in some cases go back years. Rangel stands accused of everything from soliciting donations to a nonprofit center that bears his name from interests with business before the Ways and Means Committee, which he chaired at the time, to abusing his parking privileges in the House garage. (A full list of charges is available here). 

The Reporting Group has followed Rangel's ethical lapses for some time, and contributed some of our own research (see here for our report detailing omissions from Rangel's financial disclosures over the years–by our count, going back to 1979, Rangel misreported assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000). But we've also followed the ethical shortcomings of quite a few other sitting members. 

In Rangel's formal response to the charges, he noted that several other members of Congress had violations little different than his. For example, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and four senators no longer in Congress (three are deceased, and the fourth, former Republican leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., is a Washington lobbyist) solicited funds to support their own eponymous, university-based nonprofits. In his more colorful floor statement last August, Rangel, a prolific fundraiser for House Democrats, defended himself by noting that he'd gone to  "Republican districts" to raise money to help elect his colleagues (it comes in about 1:35 into the clip).

Rangel's live appearance before the House Ethics Committee is a welcome change from how such proceedings usually go–evidence is taken behind closed doors, the member or members under investigation respond behind closed doors, there are some negotiations as to punishment (the Ethics Committee reportedly offered Rangel a deal to settle the allegations against him), and sunlight–having members publicly defend their conduct–is relatively rare. Many observers of the late Sen. Ted Stevens' trial for filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms–omitting gifts given him by Veco Corporation and its CEO Bill Allen–believe that it was the long serving Alaska lawmaker's own testimony, including his insistence that he had many things in his home that didn't belong to him, that convicted him. (Due to prosecutorial misconduct, the charges against Stevens were ultimately dismissed.)

Here are some members of the House who've run into ethical difficulties who didn't face the same sort of public inquiry that Rangel (and later this month, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.) will face. Our list is by no means complete–feel free to add additional examples in the comments section.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: Fined by the Federal Election Commission in 2004 $21,000 for accepting contributions over the federal limits by running two leadership PACs, double dipping from her top contributors.  

Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio: In 1995, he passed out checks from tobacco companies to other members on the House floor as they considered a measure that would eliminate a tobacco subsidy. His leadership PAC employed Jim Ellis, a political operative currently awaiting trial for his role in former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's alleged campaign money laundering scheme. In the '90s, Boehner created the "Thursday Group," a weekly roundtable for business group and conservative lobbyists to confer on legislation and policy. 

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, Rep. Christopher Lee, R-N.Y., Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.: Under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics for hosting a fundraiser for financial industry interests while considering the financial services industry reform bill before Congress. Find the invitations on our Party Time site.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska: Secured a $10 million earmark to build a road in Fort Myers, Fla., that benefitted a real estate developer who'd raised $40,000 for Young. 

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.: Took large campaign contributions from PMA Group, the disbanded lobbying firm whose founder pled guilty to making illegal campaign contributions, and earmarked millions to the firm's clients. 

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.: Failed to report a quarter million in campaign expenditures and more than $100,000 in contributions to the Federal Election Commission. 

Rep. Allan Mollohan, D-W.Va.: Created, via earmark, the Allan Mollohan Innovation Center, which houses friends, family members and former aides who have received millions in earmarks from the Appropriations Committee member, and made hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions to him.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn.: Inserted a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would benefit United Parcel Service by making it easier for the workforce of its rival, Federal Express, to unionize, according to Bloomberg. UPS is Oberstar's largest career contributor.

Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif.: Ex-aides alleged Miller abused his office by trying to get a local councilman, whose support he needed for a real estate deal, appointed to the National Park System Advisory Board, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calf.: Calvert made a $550,000 investment in some California real estate, then secured an earmark for $1.5 million for economic development in the area and another $8 million earmark to build a highway interchange 16 miles from the property, which he later sold for $1 million. 

Rep. David Scott, D-Ga.: Has $182,000 in unpaid taxes and has paid more than $643,000 to his family, their business, and its employees, according to Politico

Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky.: Took trips in January to Hawaii sponsored by the American Association of Airport Executives and in 2006 earmarked funds for the group to develop security technology for airports.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich.,.: Took a trip to the Caribbean without disclosing that the true sponsors were corporations, rather than the nonprofit listed on their travel and financial disclosure forms, a violation of House rules.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.: Lewis has earmarked millions for clients of a now defunct lobbying firm, Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, which bundled hundreds of thousands in contributions to him.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.: Got an invitation for a longtime business partner of his wife to testify before the House Small Business Committee, for which he is ranking member, without disclosing his or his wife's relationship.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.: Claimed a tax deduction on his Maryland home, listing it as his primary residence, though his primary residence is actually in California

Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif.: Violated gift and disclosure rules, and may have received preferential treatment on her mortgage for her Sacramento home. 

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas: Failed to disclose millions of dollars worth of stock transactions on his 2008 and 2009 financial disclosure forms, according to Roll Call. McCaul is on adjudicatory committee that will be judging Rangel. 

This post doesn't cover the multitude of other members who have filed inaccurate, incomplete or otherwise faulty financial disclosure forms, or other questionable conduct by members, for example, the land dealings of Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., or the questionable scholarships awarded by  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas and those by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.