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Why Only Rangel?

That’s the question being asked by some government watchdogs in the wake of Rep. Charlie Rangel’s admonishment by the House Ethics Committee yesterday.

The New York Democrat, the panel concluded, had violated congressional lobbying rules when he was flown to Caribbean business conferences in recent years at the expense of corporate sponsors. Those same companies, though, had also sponsored the travel arrangements of five other House members — Democratic Reps. Donald Payne (N.J.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.) and Delegate Donna Christensen (V.I.) — none of whom were cited for violations of ethics rules. The ethics panel found that those members were unaware that the corporations were funding the travel, whereas members of Rangel’s staff were.

Yet Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wonders just how unaware they were. In a statement issued yesterday, Sloan argued that if Rangel’s office knew the source of the funds, the others surely would have known as well. “The notion that Rep. Rangel alone was aware the trip was sponsored by corporate donors defies logic,” she said.

There were banners identifying specific corporate donors and Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), publicly thanked corporate sponsors. The fact is, each and every member of Congress present was equally as culpable as Rep. Rangel and all should be held to the same standard.

Of course, admonishment by the ethics committee is just a nominal penalty — a slap on the wrist with few implications beyond the political stink that Republicans are making. The real embarrassment is that, to reach this point, it took the ethics committee eight months, six subpoenas, 29 witness interviews, and 19 meetings of the investigative subcommittee.

Do you think that cost taxpayers more or less than the $11,800 in travel dollars the lawmakers were forced to return?

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