Common Cause, a leading government watchdog group, has asked the House ethics committee to expand its investigation of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, to include allegations that Rangel helped preserve a tax break for an oil-drilling company after the company's CEO pledged to donate $1 million to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service.
Rangel has denied the allegation, which was first reported last week by the New York Times. The newspaper said that Rangel allegedly helped retain a lucrative tax break for Nabors Industries after Eugene Isenberg, Nabors' CEO, made the $1 million pledge for the Rangel Center.
The ethics committee announced on Sept. 24 that it was creating a four-member investigative subcommittee to look into the allegations surrounding Rangel, including reports that he sent out dozens of letters on congressional stationery soliciting funds from potential donors - some of whom had business before Ways and Means - for the Rangel Center. Rangel has helped raise $11 million for the center.
It is unclear if the ethics committee will look into this latest revelation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week that she was given "assurances" that the ethics probe would be completed by Jan. 3, which is the end of the 110th Congress, but later backed off that statement.
"As the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Rangel will be tremendously influential in work around the economic bailout and crisis and we cannot afford to have lingering questions about his conduct," Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause, said in a letter to the ethics committee today. "The questions raised in news reports recently about possible inappropriate relationships between Representative Rangel and the private institutions affected by his decisions could undermine the credibility of Congress' efforts to deal with our deep economic problems."
Edgar also asked the ethics committee to make public all the information it collects on Rangel during its probe. Under ethics committee rules, the ethics committee can release whatever documentation if deems suitable.
. "We ask the committee to make public its findings into Representative Rangel's possible ethics violations as soon as possible. Any decision regarding Representative Rangel's continued chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee should be based on the findings of a fair and thorough investigation," Edgar said.