It’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:
The Hill/ANGA 2010 Midterm Election Poll finds that 57 percent of likely voters in 12 competitive districts believe that the ethical situation on Capitol Hill has deteriorated since President Obama took office. Thirty-two percent of respondents say there has been no change, and only 7 percent claim it has improved.
If only 7 percent think things have gotten better under Pelosi, it is unlikely that the failure to try Rangel and Waters will do anything but fuel the public outrage about corruption on Capitol Hill, and the unwillingness of the leadership to do anything about it.
This Ethics Committee dithering is not fair to citizens’ groups like NLPC that come forward with information about wrongdoing by members of Congress. We exposed Rangel’s failure to disclose, or pay taxes on, rental income from his beach house in the Dominican Republic, prompting more far-reaching questions of his personal finances, and forcing Rangel to disclose for the first time hundreds of thousands in hidden income and assets. We first made public the information about Rangel’s tax evasion on August 31, 2008, more than two years ago. Rangel filed amended financial disclosure forms on August 12, 2009, more than one year ago. Watchdog groups and journalists who uncover corruption should have an expectation that the Ethics Committee will respond in a timely manner, free of partisan politics.
The Ethics Committee did admonish Rangel, based on evidence that I provided to the Committee, that Rangel accepted corporate-sponsored Caribbean junkets, leading to Rangel’s resignation from his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. While this was a step forward for the Ethics Committee, to now put off trials of Rangel and Waters until after the election is two steps back.
The Ethics Committee is now living up to its inglorious history. The late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) bragged on the FBI’s Abscam sting tape that he was on the Ethics Committee, implying that it was an ideal perch for unethical activity. Murtha reportedly was responsible for getting his friend Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) on the committee, who became its ranking member. Mollohan resigned in 2006 after NLPC triggered an FBI investigation of his finances. At the time, Pelosi blamed NLPC instead of Mollohan.
Maybe the Ethics Committee will never do its job, and it is ultimately up to voters to police Congress. That is what happened in the case of Mollohan. After being elected 14 times, he was defeated in the Democratic primary in May by an opponent who made corruption the centerpiece of his campaign. Now that opponent, Mike Oliverio, is having trouble answering questions about whether he will vote for Pelosi as Speaker.
Timeline of Charles Rangel Ethics Scandal
Flaherty: Rangel Had to Know of Junket’s Corporate Sponsorship (Fox News Channel video)
Flaherty: Rangel Dirty Even After Coming Clean (CNN/Anderson Cooper video)
Flaherty: Rangel is ‘Serial Offender’ (CNN/Anderson Cooper video)