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Why Rangel's punishment won't really matter

After a two-year investigation into ethics violations (and an ethics trial he walked out of before he was found guilty of breaking 11 separate congressional rules), Charlie Rangel is likely to face his punishment Thursday. Rangel's potential penalties range from a reprimand, or formal disapproval resolution, to a censure--a more serious version in which Rangel would have to stand in the well of the Chamber as the resolution is read to him--to a long-shot outright expulsion from the House.

Members of the committee are likely to break down along the lines of supporters, who repeatedly mention Rangel's 40 years in Congress and military service as a sort of muting of his sanctions; and detractors, who seem to believe breaking the rules should mean an end to his service, notwithstanding his reelection in his Harlem district. But despite a revamped Congressional ethics process, both sides face the same problem. The dilemma the committee will face Thursday in meting out a punishment for Rangel won't be one of facts, but of a penalty system so vague as to be almost useless.

Rangel's violations are not trifles, and some understandably see a reprimand as too light a penalty. His infractions include improperly soliciting charitable donations, not paying taxes on a house he owns in the Dominican Republic, improperly disclosing hundreds of thousands of dollars in his own financial assets, and housing his political committees in rent-controlled apartments, a no-no in New York City. And yet, especially after de facto ethics committee prosecutor Blake Chisam said he saw no signs of corruption, Rangel's violations are unlikely to mount to the level of expulsion, either.

That leaves the committee with the option of a more serious censure, which would serve to further humble the representative--perhaps even into resigning. But some supporters believe the stripping of Rangel's powerful House Ways and Means Committee chair is already punishment enough. Even Chisam, the ethic committee lawyer, calls Rangel more "overzealous" than corrupt. He says the Congressman was, "quite frankly...sloppy in his personal finances." (Rangel, for his part, has called the panel unfair, since he was unable to afford a lawyer after he and his prior legal defense parted ways.)

In a way, Rangel's supporters are right--the real punishment for Rangel was losing a powerful position in the House, one that took years of seniority and status to earn. In that sense, his punishment was already meted out earlier this year. The process of an ethics trial would be much more meaningful if there were tiers of punishment below expulsion that explicitly brought with them more substantial penalties, such as demotions or fines.

Humiliation may have worked in an era when our elected leaders held the standing of their character in the highest esteem, and when the incessant news cycle didn't offer up such an easy route to reputation rehab. For the ethics committee's punishment decision to really matter, consequences need to carry a weight and be evenly and carefully applied. In Rangel's case, his worst punishment may have already been enacted.

By Jena McGregor

 |  November 17, 2010; 12:41 PM ET |  Category:  Bad leadership , Decision-making , Federal government leadership , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Posted by: mike329 | November 17, 2010 2:59 PM -- PUNISHMENT???? Are you crazy, he's a democrat. It's a resume enhancement for him Also he is black. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN TO HIM !!!!

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This is not partisan or racial. During the hearing yesterday, the prosecutor read off a list of politicians who had been found guilty of a variety of ethics violations, some the same as Rangel, and that list included whites (many whites) and Republicans as well as Democrats. It's an equal opportunity problem. The race and partisan argument is nonsensical. Not to mention that we still haven't heard what's going on with Ensign (Republican) who has clearly violated ethics. David Vitter was just re-elected in Louisiana by folks talking about their 'values' while this fool was breaking the law by being a john to prostitutes. See, equal opportunity problem!

Posted by: bigeasyluv | November 19, 2010 11:24 AM

As every politician knows, there's no point in having power if you abuse it. Sorry, Charlie, you been hooked.

Posted by: bgreen2224 | November 19, 2010 11:15 AM

Black voters are just as stupid and likely to vote for a crook as the white voters and all other races. Look at the tea party/gop, they can forgive Reagan, Bush 1&2 for putting 10 to 11 trillion of debt, but now Obama is ruining te country. So say these tea drinking gop-eers. So why can't black voters vote with their heart instead of their brain. We white people do the same. Get over it.

Posted by: bigedpape | November 19, 2010 9:30 AM

Living in FOUR rent controlled properties = personal financial gain.

Failure to pay taxes = personal financial gain.

Using office stationary, personnel, and influence to raise money for a university with a library named after you = using your office inappropriately for personal gain.

If someone is in office long enough, they start to believe that laws are just for the little people.

Jena failed to mention that Rangel would be losing his chairmanship in two months anyway, so where is the punishment in that?

Rangel should be going to jail. At a minimum, he should be paying his back taxes and giving up the rent-controlled apartments.

Instead, I expect to see him on CNN complaining that he committed a mistake of "omission", and that it could have happened to anyone...

Posted by: Benson | November 19, 2010 8:09 AM

The overriding pathetic situation is that Rangel's constituency in Harlem CONTINUE to vote him into office!
Is the education and perception level that low?
What would this obviously corrupt politician have to do to NOT be re-elected.
It has been a long time since Adam Clayton Powell. Is there no progress here in enlightenment? What is even the LEVEL OF AWARENESS of what is going on?
I fear the same thing is happening on the opposite coast with Maxine Waters.

Posted by: xxy123 | November 19, 2010 6:46 AM

rangel, the poster boy for the cbc...

Posted by: DwightCollins | November 19, 2010 5:29 AM

He actually has hurt all of us for his own personal gain. He has used his race to stay out of the limelight with regard to unethical behavior. I am thankful that our system eventually applies to all regardless of the cards used to hide one's illegal behavior.

Posted by: gone2dabeachgmailcom | November 19, 2010 3:53 AM

He actually has hurt all of us for his own personal gain. He has used his race to stay out of the limelight with regard to unethical behavior. I am thankful that our system eventually applies to all regardless of the cards used to hide one's illegal behavior.

Posted by: gone2dabeachgmailcom | November 19, 2010 3:52 AM

CHARLIE RANGEL’S PUNISHMENT SHOULD FIT THE OFFENSE

I admit that I have no sympathy for polticians who abuse the public ’s trust, and that goes for Rangel and all other politicians regardless of what political party they belong to. It is indeed a sad day to see the CENSURE verdict recommended for Rangel — but Rangel can blame no one but RANGEL.

Rangel brought this shame upon himself and the good people of Harlem who voted and unfortunately reelected him. The voters and Rangel supporters such as Clintons and Dinkins, should have called for his resignation.

While it is so easy to castigate a corrupt politician, and there will be more who will follow in Rangel’s footstep, I am amazed that the Democrats, who had control of the House and Senate, and control the White House, did not see fit to go after former president George W. Bush for lying about the the war in Iraq! Over 3,000 of our finest young men and women are dead and over 12,000 are forver mortally wounded and disabled because Bush lied about the pretenses of going to war in Iraq.

Where were the oversight committees and the House Impeachment Committee when these flagrant violations of the Constitution were taking place? Mr. President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Pelosi and Reid — could you not find High Crimes and Misdeameanors committed by Bush and Cheney?

The Democrats needed that midterm butt-kicking — maybe being back in the wilderness will bring you back to your senses. Let’s not forget — it was the majority of the Democrats who were complicit with the Republicans in abdicating their Constitutional duty by allowing Bush to invade Iraq. President Truman was right when he stated: “If given the choice of a Democrat who acts and votes like a Republican — the voters will vote for the real Republican all the time.”

Posted by: djoh1226 | November 18, 2010 1:58 PM

It is now painfully obvious that Rangel refuses to be held accountable for his misdeeds and further that he has no intention of trying to correct any wrongs he was found guilty of committing by a group of his peers. He sneers at anyone who ask questions about his activities. He needs to resign now and let the people of Harlem have someone who will truly place their needs above his own ambitions.

Posted by: npsilver | November 17, 2010 11:26 PM

Sarah Palin

Took $17,000 state-issued per diems for evenings spent in her own home in Wasilla

2.
Had to pay back taxes.

3 .A Problem with Palin's Property Taxes?
Records Show Tax Assessments Omit New Cabins on Land Owned by Former Alaska Governor (ANCHORAGE, Feb 5, 2010 CBS and AP)

He's black, nothing is going to happen to him. It seems like breaking the laws is in style now that the dems have taken over. You can break the law like the Illegals, you can break the laws with the ethics committee, and you get away with it. UMMM, perhaps I should break the law by not paying my taxes like some in the government seem to do.
Posted by: bailey50 | November 17, 2010 5:26 PM


bailey50,
Since you are an expert on law and race what your opinion on your great leader palin

Posted by: MILLER123 | November 17, 2010 10:00 PM

Sarah Palin

Took $17,000 state-issued per diems for evenings spent in her own home in Wasilla

2.
Had to pay back taxes.

3 .A Problem with Palin's Property Taxes?
Records Show Tax Assessments Omit New Cabins on Land Owned by Former Alaska Governor (ANCHORAGE, Feb 5, 2010 CBS and AP)

He's black, nothing is going to happen to him. It seems like breaking the laws is in style now that the dems have taken over. You can break the law like the Illegals, you can break the laws with the ethics committee, and you get away with it. UMMM, perhaps I should break the law by not paying my taxes like some in the government seem to do.
Posted by: bailey50 | November 17, 2010 5:26 PM


bailey50,
Since you are an expert on law and race what your opinion on your great leader palin

Posted by: MILLER123 | November 17, 2010 10:00 PM

I watched about 10 minutes of Rangel on Chas. Rose's show and he reeked of arrogance as did his predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell. He storms out of the hearing, then claims 'injustice' because he wasn't in the room? Like the guy who kills his parents then pleads for mercy because he's an orphan. Rangel thinks he deserves special treatment because . . . well, because he's Rangel. What he needs is to be humiliated and thrown out. Maybe voters will wake up someday and retire him. But I doubt it.

Posted by: ctenwith | November 17, 2010 9:32 PM

How is any action other than expulsion a punishment?

Does any one really believe Charley would resign after "standing in the well" and hearing his censure read to him?

This reminds me of when Eliot Spitzer was caught committing numerous serious felonies, felonies which he prosecuted others for, and Ed Koch said that resigning the governor's office was punishment enough.

Oh the horror these felons face! Oh the terrible swift justice their peers mete out!

The message is and always was you can commit just about any crime if you are the member of the Congress because your pals will always back you up. Ain't that right Mr. "Lion of the Senate" Teddy Kennedy.

Posted by: krankyman | November 17, 2010 9:31 PM

Rangel's loss of the house chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee was no punishment. It was the right and log delayed action due an arrogant politician. If anything, given Rangel's numerous financial violations, his chairmanship should mean a MORE severe punishment, just as you would expect for a police officer who dealt drugs.

Posted by: mikesfile | November 17, 2010 7:30 PM

When will the criminal charges be made? Or is Holder going to protect Rangel?

Posted by: richard36 | November 17, 2010 5:18 PM

Jena, you have got to be kidding me: "his punishment is losing his hard earn chair" !!! Let's get this right, he was the chair of the ways and means committee, writing the tax laws of all American's, AND his violations mainly have to do with finances! Saying loss of his chair is appropriate punishment like saying a cop dealing drugs is punished enough because he loses his job. It is because of this chairmanship the his punishment should be MORE severe. Besides that, he would have lost his chair in 2 months anyway, since the Republican's won the house. OOOOh, big punishment! I am amazed that your editor let this go to press. Shame on the Washington Post!

Posted by: mikesfile | November 17, 2010 5:14 PM

He should be fired, period. Does not matter if you are white, green, yellow or black. As long as a slap on the wrist is punishment we will have a corrupt government. Everyone has to be held accountable. This includes ALL public office holders.

Posted by: oneman2rods | November 17, 2010 5:01 PM

PUNISHMENT???? Are you crazy, he's a democrat. It's a resume enhancement for him Also he is black. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN TO HIM !!!!

Posted by: mike329 | November 17, 2010 2:59 PM

There is no accountability in our broken Government. As usual, he will walk away with a knuckle-rap-laughing at all of us.

Posted by: lionelroger | November 17, 2010 2:55 PM

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