WASHINGTON — Rep. Charles Rangel of New York asked 25,000 campaign donors Wednesday to call the Capitol switchboard and urge their representatives to vote against censuring him for ethical misconduct.
There's only one problem. For many of them, Rangel is their congressman.
Rangel, 80, a Democrat who has served his Harlem district for 40 years, faces a scheduled censure vote Thursday. He's likely to become the 23rd House member ever to receive the most serious punishment short of expulsion — and the first since 1983.
He's seeking a lesser reprimand for fundraising and financial violations, including failure to pay taxes on income from a vacation villa and filing misleading, public financial reports.
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A censure and reprimand both require votes disapproving Rangel's conduct. However, only a censure demands that he stand before his colleagues in the front of the chamber, while the speaker reads him the resolution that condemned his conduct.
Rangel's e-mail to donors went to a list of supporters from his campaign committee. While he has backers throughout the country, Rangel has little need for campaign contributors outside his Harlem district — where he's been elected 21 times including last month.
Rangel won the general election with 79.9 percent of the vote, and captured 61.3 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, compared to 22.6 percent for chief rival Adam Clayton Powell IV.
It's not unusual for groups to rally supporters to call the Capitol to oppose or support legislation. But it's highly unusual in a disciplinary case.
Congressman issues apologia
Rangel was apologetic in his plea.
"I am truly sorry for mistakes and would like your help in seeing that I am treated fairly," he wrote.
He asked his backers to call the Capitol switchboard "to urge your member of Congress to speak against the sanction resolution and encourage them to vote against the censure on the House floor."
Rangel said he posted arguments for a reprimand on his website "which shows that the recommendation for censure is excessive and that my lapses do not rise to the level of transgressions of those censured in the past."
He has the almost impossible task of overcoming a 9-1 vote of the House ethics committee that recommended a censure.
In addition to filing misleading financial disclosure reports and failing to pay taxes for 17 years on his income from a Dominican Republic villa, Rangel used congressional letterheads and staff to solicit donations for a center named after him at City College of New York.
The ethics committee found that Rangel contacted businesses and their foundations that had issues before Congress, and specifically before the Ways and Means Committee that Rangel formerly headed.
Rangel also set up a campaign office in the Harlem building where he lives, despite a lease specifying the unit was for residential use only.
Rangel has paid the U.S. Treasury $10,422 and New York State another $4,501 to fulfill another ethics committee recommendation. The amounts were to cover taxes he would have owed on his villa income had the statute of limitations not run out on his tax bills.
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