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Ranking Democrats under ethics investigations

Joseph Wright | 8/4/2010, 5 p.m.

As the Democratic party looks to maintain its control of Congress they are faced with a couple of potentially major problems as autumn elections loom later this year. Two of its senior Congress members are being charged with ethics violations that could change the balance of power in Congress depending on how voters are influenced.

Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) have been charged with congressional ethics violations (Rep. Rangel is charged with 13; Rep. Waters is charged with three). They intend to fight in respective House trials that will take place in the fall--at election time. (See the side bar "House ethics investigations and Black lawmakers.")

From the analysis by some political observers, the accusations against Reps. Rangel and Waters are not intended to influence elections in their respective districts but in contests around the nation. There are subtle hints of racial components as well as political maneuvering on the part of Republicans in an attempt to discredit Rangel and Waters to voters across the United States and in an effort to gain seats in the House and the Senate. There are 432 members in Congress and only these two have been singled out. "Those two (Rangel and Waters), outside of President (Barack) Obama and his appointees, are the most powerful Black elected officials in the U.S. at the federal level," says Dr. David L. Horne, executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute. "Although these accusations may seem to be something that just came up, this is something that has been going on since early 2009.

"The Congressional Black Caucus hates this investigative process because it seems to target Black politicians," added Horne.

According to some, these allegations against two highly ranked Democratic lawmakers complicate the party's plan to maintain its control of Congress. "This just forces (the Democrats) on the defensive even more," said national political analyst Nathan Gonzalez. "And it really makes it difficult for them to get their message out when they're trying to defend (Rangel and Waters)."
Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), who led the investigative panel that reported the charges, expressed regret before reading the allegations against Rangel. "I think it's safe to say none of us enjoyed this assignment," Rep. Green lamented. "No one wants to investigate their peers."

Some Republicans, most notably House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), have pounced on the situation to criticize the Democratic majority. "Nancy Pelosi said four years ago that it was 'time to drain the swamp,' but the fact is she has not kept her promise," Rep. Boehner said. "The 'swamp' is alive and well."

Among the 13 charges Rangel faces are: improperly using his office to solicit donations for a school of public policy in his name at the City College of New York (CCNY); using a rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem for his campaign office; failing to report more than $600,000 on his financial disclosure report; and failing to pay taxes on rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.