Upon taking the reins of the Democratic-controlled House, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) famously stated that she would preside over the “most ethical” Congress in the history of the United States. On Tuesday, four years after her infamous statement, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) was formally convicted on 11 of the 13 ethics charges against him. The Ethics Committee did so in absentia, as Rangel left the proceedings as a form of protest. It appears Speaker Pelosi’s “most ethical Congress in history” has far from lived up to its hype.
The charges against Rep. Rangel represent the latest in a string of allegations ranging from ethics violations to corruption that have besieged Congress. Rangel was charged with failing to accurately report his assets, improperly using a subsidized housing unit as a campaign office, and using his office to elicit personal benefits. Although convicted, Rangel remained defiant.
“How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the ethics subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room?” Rangel declared, referring to his departure from the proceedings over anger at being denied the time to acquire new legal representation. Rangel had argued that he was incapable of affording his legal team due to the high legal costs incurred over the past two years.
“While I am required to accept the findings of the Ethics Committee, I am compelled to state again the unfairness of its continuation without affording me the opportunity to obtain legal counsel as guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution,” Rangel protested.
As one House ethics scandal winds down for the outgoing Democratic Congress, another is being ushered into the forefront. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has been accused of using her committee influence to help direct $12 million of the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to One United Bank, an institution to which her husband had significant financial ties. Waters denies any wrongdoing.
“I have not violated any House rules,” Waters said. “The record will clearly show that in advocating on behalf of minority banks, neither my office nor I benefited in any way, engaged in improper action or influenced anyone.”
Ethics violations are certainly not restricted to Democratic lawmakers or the House of Representatives in general. Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) admitted to an extra-marital affair in 2009, and Senator John Ensign (R-NV) faced a similar scandal in 2008.
What is particularly unsettling about the recent examples of congressional malfeasance is the manner in which Speaker Pelosi had previously declared such actions unacceptable. In touting her oversight of Congress as representative of a new way, one in which the ethical transgressions of the past would no longer be tolerated, Pelosi laid the foundation for high expectations.
“The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C., and the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history,” Pelosi declared in late 2006.
Speaker Pelosi failed to live up to her rhetoric. House ethics violations continued, members of Congress remained defiant, and when asked earlier in the year to respond to the charges against Rangel, Pelosi stated, “It was a violation of the rules of the House. It was not a — something that jeopardized our country in any way.”
In qualifying her rebuke of Rangel’s actions, Speaker Pelosi sent the message that certain ethics violations are more acceptable than others. Far from establishing an unparalleled level of integrity in Congress, Pelosi’s equivocation, and leadership, maintained the status quo.
Scott G. Erickson is an advocate of conservative, principled solutions to the issues facing America. He has worked to advance conservative priorities through coalition building and is an active participant in myriad organizations seeking to restore the foundational principles of America. A committed public servant, he has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. He blogs at scottgerickson.com.