Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a House committee chairman, decorated war hero, and member of congress, is being targeted by The Washington Post for allegedly mingling his official duties with his personal interests.
Already under fire for the four rent-stabilized apartments in Harlem he has enjoyed for years at a time when the city is experiencing a chronic shortage of low- and moderate-income housing, Rangel's solicitation for funds for a pet project is now being scrutinized by the Post.
According to a lengthy investigative Post report, Rangel has solicited donations from businesses that appear before his committee, hoping, the newspaper alleges, to raise $30 million for a new academic center that will house his papers when he retires.
The Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York (CCNY), which Republicans called Rangel's "Monument to Me," was started with a congressional earmark for nearly $2 million. Rangel has also written letters on congressional stationery, has sought meetings to seek corporate and foundation contributions, and has gotten two Department of Housing and Urban Development grants totaling $690,500 to help renovate the College-owned Harlem brownstone that will house the center, HUD and school officials told the Post.
For his part, Rangel sees nothing wrong with his efforts. "In the 38 years that I've been down here [in Washington, D.C.], I don't think there has ever been any challenge, real or unreal, to my integrity as it relates to fundraising," he said, adding, "If it was an ethical problem, I wouldn't do it."
Rangel has helped raise about $12 million of the $30 million goal, college officials said.
One of the businessmen the congressman has solicited is none other than The Donald himself. In a March 7, 2007 letter to Trump, Rangel wrote, "It is a personal dream of mine to see this Center at City College, which resides in my congressional district and where so many talented young men and women from the community have gotten an excellent education."
"Charlie Rangel is the most honorable, honest politician in Washington and, frankly, anything he's concerned with is 100 percent straight up," Trump told the Post.
But the Post points out that Rangel's committee has broad jurisdiction over tax policy, trade, Social Security and Medicare, and ethics experts and government watchdogs have told the newspaper that it is troubling that one of the Nation's most powerful lawmakers would seek money from businesses that have interests before the committee he leads.
"I think that he has crossed the line," said F. Christopher Arterton, dean of George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. "Charlie Rangel is a prominent public servant and may deserve a center at City College . . . but I think one has to be careful about how one raises the money for that. The danger is that it begins to blur the lines between whether a quid pro quo is implied by this or not."
And Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the Post, "People in positions of power have to be very conscious of the coercive effect of their requests."
The Post alleges that from the center's earliest stages Rangel has used his influence to help raise funds. In 2005, for example, the paper recalled that Rangel wrote an appeal on congressional stationery to about 100 foundations, saying the project "will allow me to locate the inspirational aspects of my legacy in my home Harlem community."
Rachelle Butler, the college's vice president for development and its chief fundraiser, told the Post there was no pressure on businesses to give. "We got turned down many more times than we got accepted," she said.
CCNY President Gregory H. Williams and Rangel came up with the idea for the Center. It will offer scholarships, sponsor research, and house the college's new master-of-public-administration degree program.
An archive of Rangel's papers and memorabilia will record "the life of one of America's most important public servants" and "will rank with the Clinton and Carter Libraries" in importance, according to CCNY promotional materials.
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