Charlie Rangel will face his peers tomorrow in a bid to save his sinecure seat in the House after multiple ethics violations involving undisclosed income and influence peddling. Of course, Rangel has the right to defend himself and to acquire the best legal representation to do so. However, given all of that undisclosed income, perhaps he might have thought of paying for it himself, rather than having lobbyists provide counsel, as Timothy Carney reports in the Washington Examiner:
Two of the three firms providing legal counsel to Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., in his pending ethics cases are lobbying firms. In fact, one firm, Oldaker, Belair & Wittie, conducts much of Rangel’s political fundraising, while operating four different lobby shops.
But who’s ultimately paying Rangel’s legal bills? Mostly corporate and union political action committees along with individual lobbyists. Over the past six months, PACs and lobbyists have accounted for a majority of the money Rangel’s campaign has raised this year, not counting transfers from Rangel’s other fundraising operations (more on them below).
In turn, Rangel funnels his campaign cash into his legal defense. In 2009, three-fourths of Rangel’s $2.16 million in campaign spending went to legal fees. The House Ethics Committee allows campaign funds for legal fees that are not “primarily personal in nature, such as a matrimonial action, or could result in a direct personal benefit for the Member.” Otherwise, legal fees are a legitimate use of campaign cash because “the protection of a Member’s presumption of innocence in such actions is a valid political purpose,” the guidelines state.
That means any politically savvy donor who cut a check in 2010 to Rangel’s reelection knew the donation was, in part, a contribution to Rangel’s legal defense — indeed, in the first two quarters of 2010, Rangel’s campaign spent $655,232, with $230,749 (35 percent) going to legal fees. Zuckerman Spaeder LLP got biggest haul of Rangel cash — $182,000. The firm had lobbying clients including one top drugmaker until last year, when the K Street legal shop de-registered as lobbyist.
Er, aren’t these the kind of transactions that got Rangel noticed in the first place? They may not technically be illegal or violate House ethics rules, but the use of a political campaign war chest for legal defense resulting in part from campaign certainly has an ick factor.
Having lobbyists fund your defense in an ethics trial also gives a rather bad set of optics, too. Why not just have a personal-injury attorney handle it instead? It would be less unseemly. I understand John Edwards is available. Even that would look better than a K Street defense for Rangel.
Or perhaps this is fitting. Maybe the House could put K Street on trial right along with Rangel, especially since Democrats spent all of 2008 railing against the lobbying industry as a source of all political evil, and then spent 2009 and 2010 raising money on K Street. That would certainly be entertaining, but strictly fantasy, too. I suspect they’ll try to get Rangel to resign before tomorrow’s hearing in order to spare themselves from that reminder of their hypocrisy. Perhaps they can get a K Street firm to help out by offering Rangel a job, rather than legal representation.
Update: I didn’t notice the typo in the original Examiner reporting, but obviously Rangel has not spent $206 million in 2009 on his campaign. The paper has corrected it to $2.16 million, which I’ve also changed in the excerpt. Thanks to Tom N for the heads-up.