WASHINGTON — Rep. Charles Rangel lobbied colleagues against long odds Thursday in an effort to receive punishment milder than censure by the House for ethical misconduct.
A half-dozen supporters spoke on Rangel’s behalf at a closed-door Democratic meeting hours before the House was to discipline the New York Democrat for financial and fundraising misconduct. But Rangel would need to overcome the 9-1 vote for censure from an ethics panel that has five members from each party.
“I think it’s important for members on both sides of the aisle to support the work of the committee,” said Republican Rep. John Boehner, who will become the House speaker in January.
Nonetheless, Rangel backers were pushing for an initial vote on a reprimand instead of censure.
If the House votes for censure as expected, Rangel will have to walk to the front of the chamber and stand before his colleagues while Speaker Nancy Pelosi – in one of her most solemn duties – reads him the censure resolution.
The House ethics committee took a hard line toward Rangel, 80, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Most past censures involved congressmen who enriched themselves. Rangel was not charged with lining his pockets, although he did fail to pay taxes for 17 years on income from a vacation villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.
In Rangel’s case, the House ethics committee said, his long pattern of fundraising and financial misdeeds justified the most severe penalty short of expulsion.
Rangel has had a difficult time accepting the punishment and planned to argue on the floor of the House for a reprimand – a vote disapproving his conduct but without the requirement that he stand before his colleagues to accept the discipline.
His argument is that censure is reserved for corrupt congressmen, and he’s not one of them.
In a last-ditch attempt to influence the House, Rangel e-mailed about 25,000 campaign supporters Wednesday. He asked them to call the Capitol switchboard to get connected to their congressmen and ask them to vote against censure.
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.
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.”
Rangel filed misleading financial disclosure reports for a decade, leaving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets he owned. He 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 he contacted businesses and their charitable foundations that had issues before Congress and, specifically, before the House Ways and Means Committee that Rangel formerly headed. He was not, however, charged with taking any action on the donors’ behalf.
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 Treasury $10,422 and New York state $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.