Ethics Watch—Three’s A Crowd

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December 6, 2010; Source: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington | Despite charges of bias, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) maintains a laser-like focus on members of Congress it sees as compromised or corrupted—Republican and Democratic. Featured on the cover of its latest report are Democrats Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters, among others, who might feel like CREW’s pro-Democratic leanings are a bit suspect. This year’s top 10 list includes three legislators whose tendency toward ethical faux pas include misdeeds involving nonprofits and foundations:

  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) solicited donations for his charitable foundation to fulfill pledges he made to the Boys and Girls Club and Meals on Wheels from corporations with business with his House Energy and Commerce Committee. Falling short of pledges to both, the foundation encouraged nuclear energy companies to give directly to Barton’s favored charities, bypassing congressional lobbying disclosure requirements.
  • Despite explicit anti-nepotism rules, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) funneled 23 scholarships over a five year period from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to four grandsons and great-nephews and to the children of a senior aide. She explained that there weren’t enough “very worthy” students in her district to qualify for the scholarships.
  • Recently censured Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) used official congressional stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. His fundraising targets included individuals and corporations with business before the House Ways and Means Committee that he chaired. Because Rangel is apparently slated to get a chair at the center once he leaves Congress, he stood to personally benefit from the ostensibly charitable fundraising for CCNY.

Once again, CREW’s attention to Congressional corruption catches instances where the behavior involves misuse of charities and foundations. In those cases, these members’ corruption of charities and foundations sullies us all.—Rick Cohen