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Letter gives Democrats '10 reasons' to vote no on censuring Rangel

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and his allies have begun buttonholing members to support a lesser charge than censure when it comes time to vote on his punishment for ethics violations.

The letter circulated by Rangel's office, titled “10 Reasons Why Rep. Charles Rangel Should Not Receive Censure,” makes the case that censure is too harsh a penalty based on a history of punishments given to other members.

Rangel, a 40-year veteran of the House, is known for his friendliness and jocularity, so punishing him will be a difficult choice for many Democrats. Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.), both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have said they would vote against censure.

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Clay said he still remembers when his father, Rep. William “Lacy” Clay (D-Mo.), would have Rangel over to dinner when he was just 12 years old.

“I’ve known him for more than 40 years,” Clay said. “This is just sad.”

Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said her panel sent its censure resolution to the House floor Monday night. The House could consider the resolution right away, but it can wait no more than two days to debate it.

If the full House agrees with the ethics committee’s recommendation, Rangel would be the 23rd House member censured for ethics violations, excluding members who resigned or whose term ended before the action could be taken.

The No. 1 reason not to approve censure, according to the document, is that Rangel has not been convicted of any crime.

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“In the past the ethics committee has recommended reprimand in matters where a Member has failed to submit accurate Financial Disclosure statements, or intentionally failed to disclose gift or donations, or if his conduct involved an actual conflict of interest or corruption,” the document reads.

The document takes particular exception to the committee’s findings that Rangel violated House ethics rules when he used his stationary to solicit an educational center bearing his name. The letter characterizes the violation as Rangel “failing to follow the committee’s instructions” when it came to the solicitations.

Members are allowed to solicit donations for charitable organizations but they cannot do so using their official House stationary.

“Rangel is being censured for his failure to follow the committee’s instructions related to solicitations on behalf of a public university located in his congressional district, failure to adequately review financial records, which led to omitting required information on his financial disclosure statements and under-reporting income on his tax returns in numerous years, and his improper use of rent-stabilized apartment for campaign activities,” the document says.

The document also makes the point that Rangel did not take bribes, that his violations were not fraudulent and that they did not involve sexual misconduct. The letter cites previous ethics cases in which these activities prompted a censure.

The document also argues that Rangel was transparent with the committee, specifically noting that then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was only reprimanded even though he made 13 false statements about his misuse of tax-exempt entities to fund a college course.

“By contrast, Rangel had himself initiated the ethics investigation and hired a forensic accountant,” it reads.

In addition, the document stresses that Rangel did not try to improperly use his office for personal financial gain and did not divert official resources for personal use.

“Precedents show that Rep. Rangel’s violations do not warrant censure,” the document concludes.

In the last 100 years, the House has censured just four lawmakers.

Reps. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Daniel Crane (R-Ill.) were censured in 1983 for having sexual relations with 17-year-old House pages. Before that, Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Calif.) was censured for accepting money from a person with direct interest in the legislation and appropriating campaign funds for personal use, and Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.) was convicted of 11 counts of mail fraud and 18 counts of false statements.

The only other person to receive a censure in the last 100 years was Rep. Thomas L. Blanton (D-Texas), who inserted a document into the Congressional Record containing indecent and obscene language.
Before those case, the House censured members for a variety of reasons, ranging from insulting another member to making statements supporting the Confederacy to outright bribery.

In 1875, Rep. James Brooks (D-N.Y.) was censured for accepting 50 shares of Credit Mobilier stock at an undervalued price and Rep. Oakes Ames (R-Mass.) received a censure for selling $33 million in Credit Mobilier stock to members of Congress and executive branch officials at undervalued prices with the intent to influence votes and decisions.

Five years earlier, Reps. Benjamin Whittemore (R-S.C.) and John Deweese (R-N.C.) were censured for selling recommendations and appointments to military academies. Rep. Lovell Rousseau (Whig-Ky.) was censured for assaulting another lawmaker with a cane outside the Capitol.

Just six members have been reprimanded — all in the last 35 years.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is the only sitting member to receive a reprimand. He received the punishment in 1990 for improperly dismissing an assistant’s parking tickets and failing to prevent his house from being used for prostitutes by third parties. The ethics committee recommended a censure and the House voted to lessen the punishment to reprimand.

In 1987, Rep. Austin Murphy (D-Pa.) was reprimanded for using official resources and violating House rules regarding voting and in 1984 George V. Hansen (R-Idaho) was reprimanded after being convicted of making false statements even though that charge was later vacated.

Rep. Edward J. Roybal (D-Calif.) was found to have failed to report campaign contributions, appropriated campaign funds for personal use, and made false statements to the committee.

In 1976, Rep. Robert Sikes (D-Fla.) was reprimanded for having a conflict of interest and improperly filing his financial disclosure.

This article was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 30 to include another member who was censured.