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Column: Dems Turn To Weed Out Political Corruption

This story was written by Neil Albstein, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter

The United States Constitution mandates that all taxation bills originate in the House of Representatives. Within the House of Representatives, the Ways and Means Committee is responsible for many of the financial matters raised in the House. The Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is considered one of the most prestigious and important positions a Representative can hold. The current occupant of this office is Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Rangel has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1971. He is the fourth-longest tenured Representative. He is a decorated war veteran. Sadly, Mr. Rangel seems to be under the impression that the law does not apply to him. Especially not the aspects of law he is professionally entrusted with: taxation. Recent investigations have shown that he has been, at least, negligent or at worst, criminally fraudulent in his tax returns, in addition to claiming other illegal, illegitimate perks.

As of July 11, 2008, Mr. Rangel rented four rent-stabilized apartments in "Harlem's Most Prestigious Address," Lennox Terrace, owned by the Olnick Organization, headed by Sylvia Olnick, a donor to Mr. Rangel's campaign (one of which he has used as a campaign office). In light of the fact that New York landlords are constantly trying to minimize the number of rent-stabilized apartments, and the fact that a rent-stabilized apartment may be destabilized if the apartment is not being used as a primary residence, the break on rent Mr. Rangel receives begins to look like a gift. The House defines a gift as any "gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance or other item having monetary value." Members of the House of Representatives are forbidden from accepting gifts worth over $100.

Furthermore, Mr. Rangel has claimed a tax break on his Washington, D.C. residence, also as his primary residence. This is in contradiction to D.C. law, which states that "by maintaining a residence in his home state and actively voting there, [a member of Congress] is demonstrating that he continues to be a part of the body politic of his home state . . . The Member is a domiciliary of his home state. Because he is not domiciled in the District, the Member cannot claim the District's homestead deduction."

Mr. Rangel also possesses a residence in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, which he frequently rents out. However, he fails to report this money on his income tax returns. Rangel has admitted to failing to declare $75,000 in rental income derived from this property and is now being forced to pay the pertinent back taxes.

The issues don't stop with residences. Mr. Rangel, until recently, kept a Mercedes-Benz in a Congressional parking space for which he did not have a permit and which was valued at $290 per month. It was also recently revealed that Mr. Rangel keeps a small extra office in the Capitol Building for use as an exercise room. This is inexcusable considering that most Congressmen have insufficient office space that they use for official business. Additionally, Rangel has had the audacity to solicit donations for a school of public service at City College of New York that is named in his honor on his Congressional stationary.

Such actions are not acceptable from any citizen. If an average worker were to illegally claim any one of the above advantages, he would be severely punished. Yet, Mr. Rangel has so far escaped even censure for his actions, thanks to votes along party lines. As recently as this week, Rangel happily boasted to reporters that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "told me I am her chairman of the Ways and Means Committee as long as I want to be." Speaker Pelosi's refusal to remove Rangel from power is as much an indictment of her as of him.

President-elect Obama has pomised America "change we can believe in." Is this it? How dare Rangel abuse his power this way and how dare Pelosi permit it? Corruption should be tolerated by neither party, and censure for unethical action should be supported by both sides, regardless of party affiliation. When Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was convicted of making false statements (related to corruption accusations), both parties promptly called for his resignation, as was completely appropriate. Now is the Democrats' turn to weed out the corrupt in the highest levels of their ranks. Sadly, it appears that they will embrace, rather than denounce, Rangel.

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