Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rangel Pays Parking Tickets With Campaign Funds

More liberal mischief reported in yesterday's Congressional Quarterly. Can you imagine if this was a GOP Conservative? It would be front-page above-the-fold material for the NY Times, Washington Post, et al...

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel of New York has used campaign funds to pay $1,540 in fines from parking tickets in the District of Columbia in the last two years, according to federal campaign finance records and his office.

Rangel’s campaign committee and his “leadership” political action committee have combined to make 14 separate payments to the D.C. treasurer for “automobile expenses” since March 16, 2007, and a Rangel spokesman confirmed that campaign aides believe they were for tickets.

One $30 ticket from Dec. 9 is still outstanding, according to a search of the recognizably district-descriptive “NYREP15” vanity plate affixed to the congressman’s PT Cruiser on the Web site of the District of Columbia’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Overall, Rangel’s committees have contributed $2,035 to the parking-ticket coffers of the D.C. Treasury since 2001.

It is not illegal to use campaign funds to pay parking fines if they were incurred during campaign activities or in relation to Rangel’s position as an officeholder.

Rangel, a prolific fundraiser and a senior member of Congress, has ample reason to attend political and official events in the nation’s capital when the House is in session, meaning that the tickets could easily have come in the course of normal business.

His spokesman, Emile Milne, told CQ Politics that Rangel is in compliance with the laws overseen by the Federal Election Commission but could not offer details on each of the tickets.

“Given the holidays and the press of business in preparation for the new administration, we have not reconstructed the circumstances behind each ticket,” Milne said. “However, Congressman Rangel is confident that the National Leadership PAC and Rangel for Congress complied with all applicable laws and regulations in connection with these expenses, which were fully reported consistent with FEC requirements.”

Under federal campaign finance law, it is illegal to use contributions to “fulfill any commitment, obligation or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign or individual’s duties as a holder of federal office,” including a “non-campaign-related automobile expense.”

Kenneth A. Gross, a partner at Skadden Arps who specializes in political law, said that most lawmakers and their aides are aware of the complexities of paying for maintenance, fuel and fines for cars that function for personal use, campaign use and official use at different times.

“I think you can tell with some degree of specificity what the car was being used for when the ticket was obtained,” Gross said. “If it’s a personal ticket unrelated to the campaign purpose, then there’s no way you could use campaign funds.”

Regardless of any potential legal issues, the congressman is paying parking tickets with other people’s money.

The fines are the latest in a series of revelations about the Ways and Means chairman’s activities that could cause him ethical, political and public relations headaches.

The House ethics committee is already investigating allegations regarding Rangel’s four rent-controlled apartments in New York, failure to pay taxes on rental income from property in the Caribbean, and the use of official letterhead to woo donations to a public policy school named for him.

And Rangel’s recently ticketed PT Cruiser is just one of at least three of the congressman’s vehicles to attract attention. Rangel had a car towed from the House garage earlier this year after the New York Post reported that he had been storing the undriveable 1972 Mercedes sedan there for several years in violation of House rules.

The same paper reported in September that Rangel was using a Cadillac DeVille leased by his taxpayer-funded House office — at $778 per month — to travel to campaign events in New York in violation of House rules.

The use of campaign donations to pay for parking violations in the District of Columbia — far from Rangel’s Harlem-based district — raises questions of whether or not all of his contributors feel their money is being spent properly.

Edwin L. Moses, chief executive officer of the City of Buenaventura Housing Authority in California, had no complaints.

Moses, who donated $500 to Rangel in June, said he is not bothered by the parking tickets.

“He is someone I think is a man of integrity,” Moses said. “I have complete faith and trust in him.”

Many of Rangel’s donors are executives and lobbyists who have interests before his committee and are unlikely to raise a fuss about what he does with their contributions because it could hurt their business.

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