Culture of Corruption

Rep. Gutierrez Accepted Free Home Upgrades from Tony Rezko

Gutierrez photoRep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) admitted to the FBI that he accepted free upgrades on a town home he purchased from convicted Chicago influence-peddler Tony Rezko, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The congressman has previously been the subject of a federal investigation for engaging in real estate deals with a developer named Calvin Boender.

During a 2008 interview with the FBI, Gutierrez reportedly said that he asked Rezko for upgrades on the town house before purchasing it. The congressman claimed that the price of the home had risen by $35,000 since he had first considered buying it, and Rezko agreed to give him an additional bathroom and a higher quality carpet to make up for the increase in cost.

Rangel Used Leadership PAC Funds for Legal Fees

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), whose House ethics trial is scheduled to begin tomorrow, used almost $400,000 in funds from his National Leadership PAC to pay legal bills to fend off corruption allegations. Rangel's ability to retain high-powered lawyers helped him delay the Ethics Committee action for more than two years, and push his trial past the election.

Rangel appears to have violated House rules. Members of Congress may use funds from their personal re-election committees for legal expenses related to their official actions. The National Leadership PAC is not Rangel's re-election committee but what is classified as a "leadership PAC," the purpose of which is make contributions to other candidates. Up to and during his tenure as Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rangel distributed hundreds of thousands to his colleagues, many of whom donated the money to charity as Rangel became an embarrassment.

Did SEIU Ballot Fraud Play Role in Harry Reid Re-Election?

Harry Reid photoVotes without voters - the notion seems like something from "The Twilight Zone." Yet this outcome, the result of a mysterious computer glitch, may have helped re-elect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, last week by a 50.2%-44.6% margin. Actually, the "mystery" is very likely the doing of a local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which nationwide provides votes, money and muscle for the Democratic Party. Critics are charging that voting machines throughout Clark County (Las Vegas), where about three-fourths of Nevada's population resides, were rigged to place check marks next to Reid's name before a person even had voted. County officials insist that no tampering occurred. But the possibility can't be dismissed, especially given that one of Reid's sons is county commission chairman.

Exec at Rangel’s Nonprofit Got $250K in Fake Tax Refunds

According to WebCPA.com:

A senior executive of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone who is also a tax preparer has pleaded guilty to submitting false and fraudulent tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service and cashing approximately $250,000 in fraudulently obtained tax refund checks.

Kelvin Crucey, 41, has been employed since 1996 by the empowerment zone, most recently as senior vice president of finance and administration.

Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) played a key role in the creation of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ). He exercises dominating influence over its board of directors and has secured millions in federal earmarks. Rangel directed millions in taxpayer money through UMEZ to another nonprofit known as Alianza Dominicana, which is Spanish for Dominican Alliance.

Did Financier Tied to Barney Frank Secretly Control 'Woman-Owned' Hedge Fund?

Sussman photoA liberal financier at the center of two congressional ethics controversies may also be involved in some questionable business dealings, according to the New York Times. S. Donald Sussman, a billionaire hedge-fund titan, made news after his fiancé, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), was accused of traveling on his private jet to campaign events.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has also been scrutinized for traveling to Sussman's Virgin Islands mansion on the billionaire's plane. Republicans have said the trip had the appearance of impropriety, since Frank serves as chair of the House Finance Committee and a company owned by Sussman has received $200 million in federal bailout money.

Barney Frank’s Ties to Bailed-Out Financier Raising Ethics Questions

Barney Frank photoHouse Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank (D-MA) is just the latest member of Congress facing scrutiny for taking joy rides on a private jet owned by hedge-fund billionaire and federal bailout recipient S. Donald Sussman.

Republicans say that Frank needs to clear up ethical concerns about his flight to the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sussman's $25 million private plane in 2009, and his subsequent vacation at the hedge-fund owner's luxurious Caribbean mansion. Sussman, a major philanthropist to liberal causes, has reportedly raked in $200 million in federal bailout funds for his company Paloma Securities. As head of the House Financial Services Committee, Frank helped push through the Wall Street bailout as well as extensive financial reforms.

Rangel Parts Company With Ethics Lawyers, $2 Million Lighter

John Bresnahan of Politico reports today:

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who faces an ethics trial next month, has parted ways with his lead defense attorneys in the case, according to several sources familiar with the matter.

It is unclear what, if any, impact this will have on the Rangel trial, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 15. It is also not clear whether Rangel decided to get rid of his attorneys or if they left of their own volition.

Whatever the case, Rangel’s lawyers were not underpaid. During his August 10 House floor speech, when he wasn’t criticizing NLPC, Rangel complained that he “paid close to two million dollars” to his legal team.

Murkowski Now Says Nothing Wrong With Sweetheart Land Deal

Murkowski photoOn July 26, 2007 Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced that she would sell back an undeveloped piece of land that she purchased in 2006, one day after NLPC filed a Complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee alleging a “sweetheart deal.”

We took Murkowksi’s action as an admission that we were right, and that it mooted out the issue. Since she undid the questionable deal, we assumed there was no reason for the Ethics Committee to pursue the matter. But now Murkowski is claiming that there was nothing wrong with the deal after all.

Controversy Follows Former Wal-Mart Lobbyist

Hirni business cardJim Hirni, convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the Jack Abramoff scandal, is again in the news. South Carolina’s largest newspaper, The State, reported on Thursday that Hirni has been assisting the South Carolina Republican Party with fund raising and organizing events.

Following the publication of our Special Report critical of Wal-Mart, Hirni in 2007 communicated to members of the Washington, DC public policy community that their employment could be negatively affected if they associated with NLPC.

Ethics Committee Delays Rangel, Waters Trials as New Poll Says Pelosi Failed to Drain the Swamp

Rangel and PelosiIt’s official. The House Ethics Committee will not conduct trials of Reps. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Maxine Waters (D-NY) until safely after the November 2 election. Ethics Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) announced yesterday that Rangel’s trial is scheduled to begin on November 15 and Waters’ on November 19.

Politics have trumped ethics in the final days of this Congress. Notwithstanding her pledge to “drain the swamp” and preside over the most ethical Congress ever, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) simply will not allow high-profile ethics trials during the campaign season. This delay is sure to backfire. A new poll shows that most voters believe Congressional ethics have gotten worse in the last two years.  According to the Hill, which conducted the poll:

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