Mark Hemingway at the Washington Examiner raises an important question: Is there a double standard on ethics in Congress? I weigh in on the discussion.
An upcoming trial for Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., on 13 charges of financial and other misconduct highlights a double standard between regular citizens and members of Congress, congressional ethics experts say.
“Generally speaking, Congress is much more deferential to their fellow members than, say, an Internal Revenue Service agent is to a member of the general public,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation. “Imagine if instead of the IRS, it’s your neighbors who will say, ‘You know, you’re a good guy, we’re not going to charge you for your taxes’ — that’s really the way it works.”
Allison noted that statements by at least one member of House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which brought the charges against Rangel and will conduct his trial later this year, seem to bolster the impression that members of Congress are inclined go easy on their colleagues.
“One of the most difficult tasks assigned to a member of Congress is to sit in judgment of a colleague,” Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee investigating Rangel, said last week. “The task is even more difficult when the subject of the investigation has befriended and mentored so many new member of Congress.”
Green also told reporters the subcommittee was recommending a reprimand by the full house — a vote by the House in which members would either approve or disapprove of Rangel’s behavior. Other than public shaming, a reprimand imposes no concrete penalty on the erring congressman.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., for example, has been previously reprimanded, but is currently chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee.
Rangel is accused of using his congressional authority to solicit donations and to enrich himself personally, but the 13 charges he now faces from the House panel do not address media reports that he failed to report income and failed to disclose assets properly on his congressional financial disclosure forms.
Last year, the Sunlight Foundation claimed to have documented 28 instances in which “Rangel omitted assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 that were either purchased, sold, or held from his financial disclosures.”
Though evidence of Rangel’s tax evasion has been highly publicized since 2008, the IRS has taken no action against Rangel. “I help people every day fighting the IRS on circumstances much less compelling than those of Mr. Rangel,” Alan J. Dlugash, a partner in the New York accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron LLP, recently told the Hill.
According to Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a lack of IRS action is no excuse for Congress not taking the accusations of tax evasion into account.
“Their argument is the typical argument of the ethics committee. ‘Well, we’re here to enforce House rules, not every law of the land,’ ” he said. “That is why I believe this is turning a blind eye to sweeping House rules with requirements that you conduct yourself as a member of the House, and in such a way that you obey the law.”
Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/Is-there-a-double-standard-on-ethics-for-Congress-1007045-99888759.html#ixzz0vfMgrfAe