Government watchdogs praise handling of Rangel case

Government watchdog groups praised the House for taking the ethics case against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) seriously and leveling out a severe penalty.

The groups also used the vote to argue for safeguarding the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an extra layer of outside scrutiny created just two years ago.

“The events highlight a broader drama unfolding in Congress. Despite some shortcomings, the OCE is vastly improving compliance to the ethics rules in Congress - and for that reason the OCE is coming under attack,” said Public Citizen’s Lisa Gilbert.

Gilbert pointed to a new Public Citizen analysis showing a marked increase in activity by the House ethics committee in just the past two years.

“This activity stems in large part from the good work of the OCE, and that is why some in Congress want to shut it down.”

The Campaign Legal Center’s Meredith McGehee said the punishment was just and deserved because Rangel was arrogant and did not take the rules of the House or even tax laws seriously enough to ensure that he was obeying them.

“His disturbing pattern of violations showed he felt he was too busy and too important to be bothered with abiding by the rules,” she said. “He cared more about enjoying the privileges and perks of public office than apparently giving more than a passing thought to examining his own behavior and upholding the ethical standards of the institution he professes to love. In the end he left his colleagues in the House little choice but to vote for his censure.”

She also said the censure vote in no way shows that the House ethics process is fixed. The panel’s recommendation of censure and the successful censure vote, she said, should not be held up as an example of why the OCE is redundant.

“The OCE has served to wake the ethics committee from years of inaction by bringing transparency and by extension some semblance of accountability, to the ethics process,” she said. “If the OCE is done away with or weakened as many members would prefer, the ethics process will be dragged back behind closed doors and inevitably the will be even more sad tales of hubris like Representative Rangel’s.”