Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ethics Schmethics: Rangel and Pals Hit the Caribbean on Corporate Dime

What, you expect rules and laws to apply to Charlie Rangel? Quite an illustrious lineup he brought along to the posh Caribbean resort. Must be great to be above the law.
High-ranking members of Congress were flown to a lush Caribbean resort this month for a three-day conference planned and paid for by several of the country's most powerful corporations - a violation of federal ethics rules, critics say.

Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus attended the 13th annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference in sun-drenched St. Maarten, including embattled Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel and New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne.

Three New York City officials attended, including Comptroller William Thompson and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., as well as Gov. Paterson, who was the keynote speaker at a luncheon on the second day of the gathering.

The politicians were seen by The Post during the Nov. 6-9 conference, walking among the palm trees on the breezy grounds of the sprawling, terra cotta Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino.

Paterson's office said he'd paid for his own travel and lodging during his visit. But other legislators enjoyed free airfare, meals and hotel rooms covered by the trip's organizer - and paid for by donations from corporations such as IBM, AT&T, Verizon, Citigroup, Pfizer, Macy's and American Airlines, a Post investigation discovered.

Officials with those companies were observed at the conference - sometimes acting as featured speakers at daily seminars and freely mingling among the pols at social events. Citigroup - which just last week received a massive bailout from the federal government - was one of the conference's biggest sponsors, ponying up $100,000 to help finance the event, according to one of the lobbyists at the gathering.

A spokesman for Citigroup told The Post the company has financially supported the conference for several years, but would not reveal an amount.
Of course, if anyone dares to criticize these freeloaders, you'll likely be called racist. Besides, these are all Democrats involved, so nothing will happen.
But according to House ethics rules, members of Congress and their staffs cannot accept multiday trips from a corporation that "employs or retains a registered lobbyist. Included in this limitation are companies, firms, non-profit organizations (including charities), and other private entities that retain or employ a lobbyist."

Though the conference's organizer is listed as New York City-based Carib News Foundation, that group pays for the event through donations from private, for-profit companies.

Furthermore, according to House rules, members of Congress must seek prior written permission from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to take free multiday trips. They must also file reports with the Clerk of the House of Representatives listing all financial sponsors within two weeks of each trip.

The filings for the St. Maarten trip were due last Monday. But as of that date, only Rep. Payne's filings were available.

A spokesman for Rangel said his disclosure forms were submitted last Monday - but by the end of the week his filing hadn't turned up in the database of the Clerk of the House.
Must be a clerical error, of course.

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