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Rangel Verdict is No Triumph for Ethics Committee

Congress must find better way to police itself

WASHINGTON - Today’s findings by a panel of the House Ethics Committee that
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was guilty of 11 ethical violations may
reassure members that their system of ethical discipline is alive and

That would be a mistake.

It took two years and thousands of staff working hours and
legal bills for Mr. Rangel in excess of $1.6 million to establish facts
that seemed clear at the outset and in the end were not disputed. The
finding, as the committee prosecutor said Monday, was that Mr. Rangel
was sloppy but not corrupt.

While no member should have to endure such an ordeal, much of the delay must be blamed on Mr. Rangel.

If the full committee and later the full House reprimand him,
as is likely, Mr. Rangel will emerge with his reputation stained but his
seat safe. Already there are hints that he will attempt to reclaim a
leadership role on the Ways and Means Committee, which helps write the
nation’s tax laws. Part of Mr. Rangel’s ethical troubles, of course,
stem from his apparent failure to fully report his taxable income.

While Mr. Rangel has been embarrassed, and his campaign
treasury depleted, the House has again demonstrated its inability to
efficiently but fairly police itself.  There’s no good reason why it
should have taken so long to bring a relatively simple case to a head.

Given all this, it is troubling that the incoming Republican
majority, with substantial Democratic backing, is said to be preparing
to close down the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent
watchdog created just two years ago to handle ethics investigations.

The OCE had no involvement in the Rangel matter because it
didn’t exist when the case arose. In its brief life, it has fielded
thousands of public inquiries about Congressional conduct and
investigated more than five dozen ethical complaints. Unlike the Ethics
Committee, it has worked with both speed and care and without a hint of

And yet, the OCE is on the chopping block. Its departure
virtually ensures that future allegations of Congressional misconduct
will be handled with the same clumsiness and partisanship that has
marked the Rangel affair. No wonder so many Americans are furious with
the ways of Washington.


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Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

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