Lawmaker on Rangel jury plans to keep $3,000 in donations from embattled rep

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has no plans to give up the $3,000 in donations he took from embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) even though he sits on the jury considering evidence that the former Ways and Means Committee chairman broke ethics rules.

Butterfield is one of a bipartisan group of eight members on the ethics committee who will weigh the allegations against Rangel.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), another member of the adjudicatory subcommittee, gave back at least $10,000 in campaign donations he received from Rangel last year when charges began to mount against the congressman.

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Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the full ethics committee and adjudicatory panel, and Kathy Castor (Fla.), the only other Democrat who will weigh allegations against Rangel, never received donations from Rangel.

In the nearly two years since the allegations against Rangel surfaced, scores of vulnerable Democrats have either returned their donations to Rangel or given them to charity.

In an e-mail, Butterfield spokesman Ken Willis said the former judge and member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) “has no plans to return the donations.”

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said she usually is not a fan of returning donations from members who find themselves in hot water. In this case, however, she thinks Butterfield should give back the money or donate it to charity.

“We would never have someone on a regular jury who has received money from a defendant,” she said.

Butterfield will sit in judgment of both Rangel and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is likewise opting for a public trial to fight an ethics charge leveled against her. Butterfield was appointed to adjudicatory committees that will weigh the evidence against both lawmakers.

Butterfield has not received campaign contributions from Waters over the last three election cycles, according to Federal Elections Commission reports.

The jury selection pool for both trials are small.

There are just five Democratic members of the ethics panel, and no one who served on the panel that conducted the investigation into Rangel’s and Waters’s activities can serve on the subcommittee considering the evidence.

Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) was the only other member who could have served in Butterfield’s place on the panel slated to weigh the evidence against Rangel.

Sloan believes Butterfield’s selection for both adjudicatory panels is a wise move by the ethics committee, considering that the CBC has questioned the ethics committee’s racial sensitivity in bringing charges against two of the caucus’s most prominent members this year.

“It’s probably a smart call to have an African-American member on both of those panels,” she said, “for the same reason why you want African-American people on juries. People want to be judged by their peers.”

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The CBC has accused the ethics committee of targeting black lawmakers in the past two years. The House ethics committee has investigated seven black members in recent months, and an eighth member, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), would have been under investigation if the Justice Department hadn’t asked the committee to back off while it conducted its own probe.

Butterfield has had plenty of experience this year looking into ethics charges involving CBC members. He chaired a House ethics probe into a corporate-sponsored Caribbean trip attended by Rangel and five other CBC members. Butterfield attended the same trip in 2005, before Democrats prohibited corporate sponsorship of travel lasting more than two days.

Despite the connections to the trip, Butterfield vowed to lead a fair investigation. In the end, the probe formally admonished Rangel for participating but found no wrongdoing on the part of the other CBC members who attended.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a CBC member, served on the investigative subcommittee that charged Waters with three counts of wrongdoing. She is accused of breaking House rules by requesting federal help for a bank where her husband owned stock and had served on the board of directors. She has denied the charges.

Rangel faces myriad allegations of wrongdoing. The most prominent are charges that he traded favors for donations to a public policy center bearing his name at the City College of New York.

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