Rep. Charles Rangel’s career in Congress may not be over — he was easily re-elected last month to a job he has held for 40 years — but the 80-year-old New York Democrat will have to carry the weight of his official censure for the rest of his life.
He was found guilty by his congressional peers of 11 counts of violating Congress’ ethical code, the most violations ever recorded against a member of Congress.
While his punishment was not the most severe his colleagues could have imposed — their options ranged from reprimand to expulsion — the impact of a censure, which is reinforced by the 333-to-79 margin of the vote to impose it, makes the action more than the “slap on the wrist” some critics said it was.
Rangel is the 23rd member of Congress to be censured, and the first in 27 years to face the penalty.
While some of his defenders said his actions didn’t rise to the level of criminality, they were not negligible, either — and it certainly remains arguable whether or not ordinary citizens who had committed the same actions Rangel did would have escaped legal penalties.
The charges against Rangel included his failure to pay about $15,000 in federal and state income taxes on rent from a vacation home he owns in the Dominican Republic over a period of 17 years, along with using official offices and stationery for fundraising efforts and failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets on his congressional disclosure forms.
He has since repaid the taxes, but apparently faces no further penalty for the shortfall. Clearly he still enjoys the favor of his constituents, 80 percent of whom voted for him on Nov. 2.
And he has his defenders in Congress, where 146 members voted in favor of a preliminary motion to reduce his penalty to a reprimand.
But Americans have seen many average-income citizens elected to public office and then become rich, which is not the purpose for which they were sent to Washington to represent us.
Our representatives owe us the highest level of probity. Rangel fell far short of that, and thus his censure is well-deserved.