Four years ago, Democrats swept to Congressional majorities on an anti-corruption platform and a ringing promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics. But as the midterm elections near, the promise looks increasingly hollow. Prominent cases of corruption in Democratic ranks reveal a party mired in the very ethical morass it once promised mop up.
The most notorious example of Democratic corruption – and the most worrying for party heads and spin-meisters as the campaign season starts – is of course Rep. Charlie Rangel. The embattled Harlem congressman spent last Thursday negotiating 13 charges levied against him by a House ethics committee. Rangel doggedly maintains his innocence, but the dossier on his misdeeds is long and growing. Among other charges, Rangel is accused of not reporting $600,000; accepting two separate corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean; using congressional stationary to solicit funds for his namesake Charles Rangel Center at the City College of New York. There are also charges that he abused rent control laws in his hometown of New York.
Rangel’s travails have party leaders in a panic. Three of his fellow Democratic congressmen have called on Rangel to resign. President Obama has also weighed in, calling the allegations “very troubling.” In an ominous statement, Obama also said he hoped Rangel could “end his career with dignity.”
Rangel is hardly the only Democrat with ethics issues. Fellow Rep. Maxine Waters has come under fire for allegations that she used her position to help arrange for federal bailout funds for a bank with ties to her husband. Like Rangel, Waters decided last week to face trial rather than accept the ethics charges against her. At the very least, that ensures that the party’s ethical woes will remain headline fodder for some time to come.
The Rangel and Waters cases are particularly problematic because they reinforce a reputation for corruption that has embroiled high-profile Democrats across the country. New York governor Eliot Spitzer was brought down in a prostitution scandal. His replacement, David Patterson, has had ethics problems since taking office. Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was caught attempting to sell president Obama’s former senate seat. The late John Murtha was the target of federal investigators in connection with a lobbying scandal. Accusations also dogged his Virginia Rep. Jim Moran and Indiana Rep. Peter Visclosky.