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.

There's No Pain-Free Cure for Recession

Belt-tightening is required by all, including government

As recession fears cause the nation to embrace greater state control of the economy and unimaginable federal deficits, one searches in vain for debate worthy of the moment. Where there should be an historic clash of ideas, there is only blind resignation and an amorphous queasiness that we are simply sweeping the slouching beast under the rug.

With faith in the free markets now taking a back seat to fear and expediency, nearly the entire political spectrum agrees that the federal government must spend whatever amount is necessary to stabilize the housing market, bail out financial firms, liquefy the credit markets, create jobs and make the recession as shallow and brief as possible. The few who maintain free-market views have been largely marginalized.

Taking the theories of economist John Maynard Keynes as gospel, our most highly respected contemporary economists imagine a complex world in which economics at the personal, corporate and municipal levels are governed by laws far different from those in effect at the national level.

Individuals, companies or cities with heavy debt and shrinking revenues instinctively know that they must reduce spending, tighten their belts, pay down debt and live within their means. But it is axiomatic in Keynesianism that national governments can create and sustain economic activity by injecting printed money into the financial system. In their view, absent the stimuli of the New Deal and World War II, the Depression would never have ended.

On a gut level, we have a hard time with this concept. There is a vague sense of smoke and mirrors, of something being magically created out of nothing. But economics, we are told, is complicated.

It would be irresponsible in the extreme for an individual to forestall a personal recession by taking out newer, bigger loans when the old loans can't be repaid. However, this is precisely what we are planning on a national level.

I believe these ideas hold sway largely because they promise happy, pain-free solutions. They are the economic equivalent of miracle weight-loss programs that require no dieting or exercise. The theories permit economists to claim mystic wisdom, governments to pretend that they have the power to dispel hardship with the whir of a printing press, and voters to believe that they can have recovery without sacrifice.

As a follower of the Austrian School of economics I believe that market forces apply equally to people and nations. The problems we face collectively are no different from those we face individually. Belt tightening is required by all, including government.

Governments cannot create but merely redirect. When the government spends, the money has to come from somewhere. If the government doesn't have a surplus, then it must come from taxes. If taxes don't go up, then it must come from increased borrowing. If lenders won't lend, then it must come from the printing press, which is where all these bailouts are headed. But each additional dollar printed diminishes the value those already in circulation. Something cannot be effortlessly created from nothing.

Similarly, any jobs or other economic activity created by public-sector expansion merely comes at the expense of jobs lost in the private sector. And if the government chooses to save inefficient jobs in select private industries, more efficient jobs will be lost in others. As more factors of production come under government control, the more inefficient our entire economy becomes. Inefficiency lowers productivity, stifles competitiveness and lowers living standards.

If we look at government market interventions through this pragmatic lens, what can we expect from the coming avalanche of federal activism?

By borrowing more than it can ever pay back, the government will guarantee higher inflation for years to come, thereby diminishing the value of all that Americans have saved and acquired. For now the inflationary tide is being held back by the countervailing pressures of bursting asset bubbles in real estate and stocks, forced liquidations in commodities, and troubled retailers slashing prices to unload excess inventory. But when the dust settles, trillions of new dollars will remain, chasing a diminished supply of goods. We will be left with 1970s-style stagflation, only with a much sharper contraction and significantly higher inflation.

The good news is that economics is not all that complicated. The bad news is that our economy is broken and there is nothing the government can do to fix it. However, the free market does have a cure: it's called a recession, and it's not fun, easy or quick. But if we put our faith in the power of government to make the pain go away, we will live with the consequences for generations. is an independent site and is not affiliated with any official web sites, associations, or organizations associated with President Reagan. Any views expressed or content included on this site do not necessarily reflect the views, positions, or opinions of any of the organizations or individuals named, linked, or advertised.

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