Commentary: Congress must quickly address ethics complaints

The Miami HeraldOctober 13, 2009 

Reports that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York leases four rent-controlled apartments in his district and uses one of those units as a campaign office space first surfaced in July of last year. It was news because this is a possible violation of local housing rules.

Some might see this as small potatoes. Mr. Rangel certainly did, dismissing it as a matter of small consequence, but in the ensuing 15 months the complaints of ethical violations have piled up.

The latest astonishing disclosure was made by Mr. Rangel himself: He somehow forgot to list on a financial disclosure form various assets worth more than $500,000, including an investment account and a credit union account.

The most serious of the multiplying allegations against the congressman is that he failed to pay taxes on $75,000 in rental income on a beach house in the Dominican Republic. As chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Rangel should know the rules as well as anyone. His excuse is that he thought he was exempt because of the way the deal was structured.

When Republicans controlled the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi took every chance she had to accuse the GOP of fostering a "culture of corruption." That helped the Democrats win control in 2006, but now the shoe is on the other foot.

Democrats have managed through straight party-line votes to defeat GOP efforts to censure Mr. Rangel, and the House Ethics Committee is taking its sweet time finishing a probe that has dragged for months.

Meanwhile, the problem continues to fester and Rep. Rangel remains one of the most powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill, even under the taint of scandal.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.

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