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House ethics panel should be applauded for decision on Rep. Charlie Rangel

Charlie Rangel
Charlie Rangel from a July, 2010 photo. Flickr photo by azipayborah.

Today, a special panel of the House ethics committee has found Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) guilty on 11 of 13 ethics charges, ranging from improper solicitations of money from lobbyists and corporate officials, to illegally accepting gifts of rent-stabilized luxury apartments, to failure to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in income on congressional financial disclosure forms.

Though the ethics investigation and verdict has taken entirely too long and should have been concluded long ago, the special panel of the House ethics committee is to be applauded for finally carrying through with its mission. The committee has been under tremendous conflicting pressures from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as conflicting pressures from Rangel himself, but in the end, Chairman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and the panel decided there would be no more delays and reached a verdict.

Rangel had repeatedly and successfully sought delays in the ethics proceedings from the very beginning, dragging the investigation on for two years. When he thought he could embarrass the Democratic leadership, he called for an immediate public trial right before the 2010 elections. Many congressional Republicans joined in the call. Lofgren correctly decided that a trial during the elections would be excessively charged and partisan and scheduled the trial to begin Nov. 15. When that date rolled around, Rangel once again sought a delay because he neglected to secure legal representation. The ethics panel had enough and properly decided to conclude the trial and finally bring an end to this sordid case.

It is refreshing to see the ethics committee finally find its mission and complete its duties. The newfound strength to carry through with its mission can in no small part be attributed to the renewed emphasis on ethics embodied by Congress since 2006 and the vigilance of enforcement represented by the semi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). Though the OCE played little part in this particular investigation, its mere existence has forced the ethics committee to fulfill its mandate.

While the ethics panel deserves praise, it is nevertheless unfortunate that Rangel, a congressman with an otherwise stellar career over his four decades in office, decided to ignore the ethics rules in recent years.

Craig Holman is the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.