Rangel Money Is Returned

Posted January 26, 2009 at 6:20pm

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) confirmed Monday that he has returned campaign contributions from Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), in expectation that the House ethics committee will soon renew its investigation of the senior Democrat.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Welch, one of five Democrats newly appointed to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, received $5,000 from Rangel’s leadership political action committee and $2,000 from his campaign committee in September 2007.

He also received a $2,000 contribution from the campaign committee in 2006 and two contributions of $5,000 each in March 2006 and October 2006.

“Congressman Welch was appointed to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct last week,” Welch’s chief of staff, Bob Rogan, said in a statement. “Since Chairman Rangel requested that the Committee investigate matters related to him, Congressman Welch has, in an abundance of caution, returned all prior campaign contributions from Mr. Rangel.”

Although the ethics committee rules allow panel members to recuse themselves from an inquiry if they are unable to “render an impartial and unbiased decision,” there is no requirement for lawmakers to do so because they have received or donated funds from a colleague under investigation.

An aide to Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.), the only other Democrat on the ethics panel to receive funds from Rangel last cycle, said Monday that the Tar Heel State lawmaker has not returned the $1,000 contribution doled out by Rangel’s campaign committee in March 2008.

“At this time the Congressman hasn’t thought about giving the money back. He was a judge for 15 years and certainly understands what integrity is,” said spokesman Ken Willis, who noted the contribution occurred more than 10 months before Butterfield’s appointment to the ethics panel. “Certainly, his integrity is not for sale for $1,000.”

Butterfield also received two donations from Rangel’s leadership PAC in 2004, for $1,000 and $2,000.

But a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday that Democrats who accepted such funds should step down from the investigation.

“Given the importance of rebuilding the bonds of trust between the American people and Congress, and the need for an ethics committee that is above reproach, Members who have received contributions from Chairman Rangel should recuse themselves from acting in any judgment or any capacity regarding the many ethical allegations against him,” spokesman Michael Steel said.

During the ethics investigation into then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in 2005, both Republican Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Lamar Smith (Texas) disqualified themselves from the ethics panel for having donated to the Texan’s legal defense fund.

More recently, however, neither of the two Democrats who received contributions from Rangel and served on the ethics panel at the time it established an investigative subcommittee into the New Yorker’s personal finances in late 2008 excused themselves from service.

Both Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) received $1,000 each from Rangel’s campaign committee in March 2008. At the time, Scott was not a member of the ethics panel.

In September 2008, the ethics panel approved a four-member subcommittee, including Scott, to examine Rangel’s ownership of a villa in the Dominican Republic and his failure to report rental income on that property, which led to unpaid taxes; his use of House parking facilities for long-term vehicle storage; and use of three rent-controlled apartments as his primary residence.

In addition, the panel examined Rangel’s fundraising efforts on behalf of a City College of New York center named in his honor, and it later expanded that inquiry to include an alleged quid pro quo of legislation in exchange for donations to the college.

Rangel has denied any wrongdoing related to his fundraising efforts, but he has acknowledged the unpaid taxes.

Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, said Members who have accepted funds from Rangel could face greater scrutiny for participating in an investigation.

“The fact that they have gotten money from him, that does raise the question, ‘How independent are they going to be?’” Allison said.

While Allison noted that Rangel is among House Democrats’ most prolific fundraisers — “Even folks who haven’t gotten funds from him are going to be mindful of how he’s helped the party” — he added: “It would be better if it was somebody who hadn’t taken funds.”