Update 7.17.08, 12:14 p.m. MST: Some pretty good advice for Congressman Rangel.
Update 7.17.08 9:08 p.m. MST: How do you get the press on your side? Get out in front of it and call for an investigation of yourself. Is Rangel's ego really this huge?
Recently, the nation's major newspapers have taken to hammering Congressman Charles Rangel. In what was at first an implied-controversy over the amount of rent Rangel pays for an office in his home district, New York's 15th District which includes Harlem, the New York Post attacked Rangel on ethics alone. Rangel responded, stating that Harlem is his home and that he has been paying as much in rent as is legal. Despite that statement, Rangel announced today that he will give up the office in question.
Both the Post and New York Times stuck with the story about Rangel's office until his public decision today to let it go. Now, the Washington Post has bombarded Rangel with a new controversy--the issue of Congressman Rangel raising money for an academic center that will be named after himself. Staff-writer Christopher Lee went after Rangel today for what he says is Rangel's "pet cause." Evidently, as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rangel has successfully secured a $1.9 million earmark from Congress and two grants totaling $690,500 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The money Rangel has secured is old news. Even last year when Congress granted Rangel's earmark, it didn't make national news as an ethics issue at all. Despite a statement Lee attributes to Congressman John Campbell of California, arguing that members of Congress shouldn't be "sending taxpayer funds in the creation of things named after ourselves while we're still here," the legislation containing Rangel's earmark sailed through Congress.
Naming rights aside, the academic center Rangel is seeking funding for will be located at the City College of New York (CCNY) in a renovated Harlem brownstone already owned by the College. The project, the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service, will serve as both an academic center and a repository for the congressional papers of Charlie Rangel. Rangel has stated that his overall goal in supporting this project is to insert racial diversity in public administration, something the center would work toward. An estimated $30 million is needed for the creation and operation of the center, a goal that fundraisers are nearly a third of the way to reaching.
Despite the probe being requested, reportedly by Republican leader John Boehner and the watch dog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, into the matter of Rangel's role in raising funds for this project as chairman of Ways and Means, only $2.7 million of the accumulated $12.2 million has come from government entities (Congress, HUD, and the New York City Council). The underlying question being whether or not Rangel used his influence as chairman of Ways and Means to acquire the congressional ear mark and two HUD grants. Similarly, is Rangel using his office (and office supplies) to conduct fundraising? Meanwhile, Rangel continues to meet with business leaders and other interested parties as a continued effort to reach the $30 million goal.
A couple parts of this story infuriate me. The first being the lack of funding for centers like this. Higher education isn't being funded as it should or Congressman Rangel wouldn't have to take this matter into his own hands. It is an honorable thing what he is doing, despite wanting his name forever attached to it, and I only wish all former members of Congress were in a position to ensure their papers be placed somewhere that will cultivate them and allow them to be useful to researchers, historians, journalists, and political scientists. The cost is simply too much.
The second part of this infuriating story and the most important is the attitude of congressional Democrats who have taken their status as the majority for granted, Rangel included. For far too many years the Republican leadership represented the party of poor ethics. For far too many years congressional earmarks left unchecked and unquestioned resulted in ridiculous projects like the bridge to nowhere. Now, despite all of their frustrations prior to gaining a majority seats in both the House and the Senate, Democrats are not only buckling under the pressure of the Bush administration, they are becoming just as guilty of ethics violations. A fellow blogger at 43rd State Blues mentioned this earlier today, more as an aside to the great FISA disappointment, but it rings true here as well. We cannot allow the Democrats we elect to take advantage of their majority status and when they act questionably, we should by all means call them on it.
Rangel doesn't appear to be giving up on this project, nor should he, however, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the constant hounding by the Post. His reaction and subsequent decision following the office rental hoopla suggests he may give in quickly, but what exactly will be give? He can't give back a congressional ear mark. He can't reject an award from HUD. He won't give up the chairmanship, he's been in Congress too long and has worked too hard to walk away from that coveted position.
Maybe it would be best for all parties, the City College of New York and Congressman Rangel included, if he allow others to take over the fundraising duties associated with this project.
(Originally posted 7/15/08 at 10:36 pm MST)