Rangel keeps cash in the family

Charlie Rangel already faces some serious questions about his taxes, and now he may face even more about the use of his campaign donations.  Politico reports that Rangel directed over $80,000 of contributions to his son to create two web sites, which hardly reflected the money spent on them:

Between 2004 and 2007, Rep. Charles Rangel steered nearly $80,000 in campaign cash to an Internet company run by his son – paying lavishly for a pair of political Web sites so poorly designed an expert estimated one should have cost no more than $100 to create.

The payments are apparently legal under federal law, but their disclosure raises new questions about the Ways and Means chairman as he faces House ethics committee probes into his failure to pay taxes on rental income and his alleged use of House stationery to solicit contributions for a public policy center that bears his name.

Rangel’s leadership PAC and congressional committee shelled out $79,560 to Edisonian Innovative Works LLC for “websites,” according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Edisonian Innovative Works, which lists several clients on its homepage – none of them politicians — was founded by Rangel’s son, Steven Charles Rangel, 40, of Greenbelt, Md.

Rangel’s team claims that the $2500 per month retainer actually cost Rangel less than his previous web consultants.  Perhaps, but Rangel far outspent his colleagues on campaign websites.  The next two biggest spenders on Internet consultation services were Republicans Ralph Regula of Ohio and Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who combined still spent less than Rangel — and needed the services far more.  While Rangel won over 90% of the vote in his exceedingly-safe district, Regula fought tough races, and Shays lost his seat in November.

And how expert was this very expensive work?  Not expert enough to spell check, anyway.  The website has been undergoing “routine maintenace” for its entire existence, includes an apology for a lack of content, and has a button labeled “Give Contribuition”.  Even that just redirects to a third-party web payment site, according to Politico, instead of handling “contribuitions” through the site itself.  One expert generously valued the work at $100 for Politico, but almost anyone with a basic HTML editor could throw that together in an hour, and perhaps less without spell-checking the work.

Did Rangel père keep any of the money?  That would make this illegal, but we’ll never know the answer to that question.  Rangel fils is out of the web-consulting business ever since his dad got him a spot as an investigative counsel on the Energy and Commerce Committee now headed by Henry Waxman.  It seems highly unlikely that the son will suddenly develop a guilty conscience and tell the whole story of where that $80,000 went — because it certainly didn’t go into the website.

Most ethical Congress ever, eh?  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.