By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) acknowledged yesterday that he hoped his personal entreaties to foundations and corporations would bring in donations to an academic center that bears his name.
In a letter to the House ethics committee, Rangel confirmed that he sent at least 150 letters on congressional stationery to philanthropic and business leaders as part of his efforts to support the new Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. The center, which promotes diversity in public administration leadership, will house Rangel's papers after he retires.
"Was my hope that these meetings would result in making financial donations to this important project with such an important public purpose? Of course," Rangel wrote to Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), chairman of the ethics panel.
The congressman asked the committee to investigate him and wrote, "[I]f I inadvertently violated House rules, I am prepared to trust the committee's judgment and accept its findings."
Emile Milne, Rangel's spokesman, said that the congressman will separately ask the panel to look into his rental of four New York apartments at below-market rates. City and state guidelines require such dwellings to be used as a primary residence. Rangel has said that he would give up one apartment that he uses as a campaign office.
The congressman said last week that his living arrangements, first reported by the New York Times, were a "personal issue" that the ethics panel should not examine. Milne said yesterday that Rangel had decided to clear the air.
"He feels he is in compliance, and he wants them to look at the various allegations about being out of compliance with the rules," Milne said. "Our plan is to get it in tomorrow."
At City College, officials credit Rangel, 78, for opening doors to potential donors and say they have raised $12.2 million of their $30 million goal for the Rangel Center.
Some ethics experts have called Rangel's entreaties to potential donors troubling because some of those he has approached and met with, including officials of the insurance giant American International Group and the oil- and gas-drilling contractor Nabors Industries, have business interests before his committee. The panel has broad jurisdiction over tax and trade matters.
Ethics experts also have questioned whether Rangel's use of House stationery violated House rules that prohibit lawmakers from using official resources for unofficial business, such as soliciting money for outside charities.
Rangel has criticized The Washington Post for scrutinizing his fundraising efforts, saying that he did nothing wrong and that none of those he contacted asked for help with legislation. In his letter to the ethics panel, he wrote that his efforts to help a public college in his district count as official business, that he does not stand to gain financially from the Rangel Center and that his letters do not ask for money, only meetings.
"I genuinely believed that, by not soliciting or making any reference to donations using my congressional letterhead and merely facilitating meetings to discuss this project, I was not violating House Ethics Rules concerning the use of congressional letterhead," Rangel wrote.