Jewish Journal


November 13, 2009

Race and Ethics—-Let’s Be Honest


Seven members of Congress are being investigated by the House Ethics Committee.  All seven are black and the Congressional Black caucus has taken exception.  They say the whiff of racism’s in the air.

Sorting out their claim, it appears they believe that black lawmakers are being racially profiled – the legislative equivalent of the canard of “driving while black.”  However, my view is that this is just the same old, same old – a victimization rant that has unfortunately become all too familiar.

Truth be told, ethics probes haven’t disproportionately zeroed in on black legislators in the past.  In fact, white lawmakers have been the most frequent targets of the Ethics Committee’s investigations.

To point out just two, need I remind the Caucus of the long-running investigation of former Majority Leader Tom Delay – recently a “Dancing with the Stars” circus act.  Delay had his hands slapped for his dealings with shady corporate lobbyists.  And then there was former Congressman Mark Foley?  This Republican was forced to resign over his embarrassing “infatuation” with a male teenage House page.

The Black Caucus frankly looks silly when they point out that others are “also” engaged in unethical behavior—-that hardly excuses the alleged inappropriate actions of Caucus members.  In fact, as I write this, the Ethics Committee is looking into the actions of other members of Congress – and they are, in fact, white. 

However, most troubling is the fact that many of those being defended on racial grounds by the Caucus seem indefensible.

Black Caucus members still voice outrage that Speaker Pelosi ousted William Jefferson from his post on the all-powerful Ways and Means Committee back in 2006. They argued at the time that Pelosi’s actions were racially motivated.  This was laugh-out-loud stuff, since Pelosi represents the San Francisco Bay Area – one of the most liberal districts in the nation.

Talking about indefensible, Jefferson was discovered to have stashed $90,000 in his home freezer.  This gives new meaning to the term “cold, hard cash.” The cash was from a bribery deal with a Nigerian government official.  For this and a host of other charges, Jefferson’s been convicted and will face 13 years in federal lock-up, announced today.

And exactly how did racism play a role in any of this?

Then there’s Charley Rangel, the long-time New York Congressman, who is also the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.  He’s under investigation for failing to pay taxes on $75,000 worth of rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. It is also alleged that he failed to disclose at least $600,000 in assets, until this past August.

Nonetheless, the Black Caucus issued a letter expressing support for Rangel, saying “…he has our full support” and that “…we are proud of the thoughtful leadership he provides the House …” So the stink of financial improprieties doesn’t bother them?  The brother’s just out-witting the system and “getting his,” right?

Apparently untroubled by the probe of Rangel’s financial behavior, even worse is their support of Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson.

Maxine came to the attention of the Ethics Committee because she and her husband owned between $250,000 and $500,000-worth of stock from One United Bank – a black-owned bank in Los Angeles.  Additionally, her husband, Sidney, sat on the bank’s board of directors.

Waters allegedly leaned on the Treasury Department, asking for a federal bailout for One United – all without disclosing her or her husband’s links to the bank.  The government eventually coughed up $12 million in TARP funds for One United.

Laura Richardson’s story is equally troubling.  Her Sacramento home was foreclosed on and then sold to a third party.  She bought the property back, which then sat idle, becoming a run-down eyesore for her neighbors.  Out of their own self-interest, the local neighbors cut Richardson’s grass and cleaned up the yard – something deemed by the Ethics Committee to be an improper gift to the Congresswoman (the Los Angeles Times has reported on all the sordid details of Richardson and her several homes).

Why is it that Richardson allowed her home to become such an eyesore that it looked like a crack den and her neighbors felt compelled to clean it up?

Now the Committee is also looking into trips to the Caribbean taken by Charley Rangel and four other black House members – Michigan’s Caroline Kirkpatrick, New Jersey’s Donald Payne, Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, and Donna Christian-Christensen from Virginia.

The Committee is investigating whether their island junkets violated House rules.  According to the Committee, these trips were sponsored, funded and organized by an agency known as the Carib News.  If true, this is simply against the rules.

Speaking of rules, why isn’t the Black caucus embracing these probes?” Shouldn’t they be jumping up and down, saying they want the truth more than anybody?  They should be advocating legislative excellence and the highest possible standards of behavior. Instead, they have adopted an embarrassing “why us” victim posture.

But it could also be argued – as I do – that the Black Congressional Caucus is a hold-over form an era that’s long-past.  C’mon, is there really some racial identity interest they serve that’s fundamentally different from any other elected officials?     

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