If you’re Charlie Rangel, your New Year’s resolution has got to be to dust off that congressional ethics handbook and brush up on the dos and don’ts of elected office. Lately, when the New York congressman’s name has surfaced in the press, it has often been in connection with allegations of conduct unbefitting a member of the US Congress. Today’s report by CQ Politics that Rangel has, in the past two years, used more than $1500 in campaign funds to pay DC parking tickets rates relatively low on the outrage meter, particularly considering that he also stands accused of trading a legislative favor for a sizable contribution to the center for public service at the City College of New York that was named in his honor. But parking ticket-gate caps off a horrendous year PR-wise for the Rangeler, who also faces charges of failing to disclose rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic; renting four below-market-rate apartments in a building owned by the family of a campaign contributor; using a congressional parking garage—in violation of congressional rules—as long-term storage for his undrivable 1972 Mercedes-Benz; and receiving a tax break on his DC home that he was not entitled to.
It’s unclear whether Rangel (who rolls around DC in a PT Cruiser with the vanity plate “NYREP15”) violated campaign finance laws by paying off his tickets campaign funds. If the fines were incurred while carrying out congressional business, CQ reports, then the expenses are technically legitimate, even though they may not reflect well on the already scandal-tainted Rep. If not, Rangel may have yet another problem on his hands. Either way, this latest episode could find itself on the growing list of ethical violations the House ethics committee is already investigating.
Rangel’s spokesman, Emile Milne, maintained that the expenditures were above board, but left his boss some wiggle room in the event that turns out not to be the case. “Given the holidays and the press of business in preparation for the new administration, we have not reconstructed the circumstances behind each ticket,” he 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.”
Apparently Rangel is not alone in using campaign funds to settle parking tickets. Since 2006, Edolphus Towns, a fellow Democratic member of New York’s congressional delegation and the incoming chairman of the House oversight committee, has paid $965 in tickets using a campaign account.