Thursday, July 17, 2008
IN THE corridors of money and power in New York City, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) is called simply "Mr. Chairman." Everyone knows that he's chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. With his sway over tax and trade policy, captains of industry around the country are eager to have his ear. So when a letter from Mr. Rangel, especially if it's on his congressional stationary, arrives, the 19-term Harlem congressman receives close attention.
As Post staff writer Christopher Lee reported Tuesday, Mr. Rangel has been requesting meetings with business and philanthropic leaders since 2005 to discuss the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. It's a $30 million facility Mr. Rangel says is dedicated to ensuring that the next generation of public servants reflects America's diversity and "will allow me to locate the inspirational aspects of my legacy in my home Harlem community." So far, $12.2 million has been raised. That includes a $1.9 million earmark, $690,500 in grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, $100,000 from the New York City Council, $7.1 million from foundations and $2.3 million from individuals. The largest single gift ($5 million) came from the C.V. Starr Foundation, which is chaired by Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg, a former head of insurance and financial services giant AIG. Mr. Rangel and college officials had a separate meeting with AIG this year, and another gift is under consideration.
Mr. Rangel's actions raise a couple of red flags. First, House rules forbid solicitations on official letterhead, even for nonprofits. At a minimum, he should stop this practice. Next, Mr. Rangel says that congressional business never comes up at his meetings. We'll take him at his word. But those with business before Mr. Rangel's committee could try to curry favor with him by donating to the Rangel Center. The appearance problem here is huge.
Mr. Rangel is now encouraging an ethics probe into his efforts for the center that bears his name. But we would also encourage the dean of the New York congressional delegation to leave the fundraising to the folks at CCNY. After all, a center inspired by "the life of one of America's most important public servants" that "will rank with the Clinton and Carter Libraries" should be able to sell itself.