By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The House Republican leader and a government watchdog group separately called yesterday for the House ethics committee to look into Rep. Charles B. Rangel's fundraising efforts on behalf of an academic center that bears his name.
The panel should examine whether the House Ways and Means Committee chairman broke ethics rules by using House stationery to solicit corporate donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York, said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), and Melanie Sloan, executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Rangel (D-N.Y.), 78, drew criticism last year for obtaining a $1.9 million earmark to help start the center. He has met with potential donors such as Donald Trump and officials of insurance giant American International Group in an effort to help the college reach its $30 million goal. The center promotes diversity in public administration and will house Rangel's official papers when he retires.
"This is yet another example of the hypocrisy of House Democrats who famously promised to 'drain the swamp' in Washington," Smith said. "Using taxpayer resources to solicit donations for a 'monument to me' earmark fiasco raises serious questions, and the ethics committee has a responsibility to examine this issue."
Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and Democratic House committee staffer, said there is no question that Rangel crossed an ethical line.
"It's not a close call," she said. "He's clearly violated the rule against using the letterhead."
Sloan pointed to a House ethics provision that allows members to solicit money for certain kinds of nonprofit groups but bars the use of office equipment and supplies. It specifically bans the implied official endorsement that accompanies use of congressional stationery.
"No official resources may be used," the rule reads, in part.
Rangel, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, last week defended his fundraising efforts. "If it was an ethical problem, I wouldn't do it," he said.
Meanwhile, Rangel is facing a political controversy back home. The New York Times reported Friday that the 38-year veteran of Congress pays below-market rents on four apartments in the Harlem building in which he lives, sparking criticism in a city where affordable housing is in short supply.
Rangel, who defended the arrangement as legal and fair last week, said Monday that he would give up one of the apartments, which he uses as a campaign office.