Rangel admonished by House ethics committee
Rangel's admonishment came despite the committee's finding there was no proof he knew of the violation. However, two of his aides knew of the sponsors, and the committee found Rangel responsible for his staff's actions.
The decision also highlights some of the inconsistency in the House's travel regulations. The trips involved were not allowed because corporations which employ lobbyists had directly funded the conference and underwrote aspects of the trip.
However, as LegiStorm pointed out in an earlier blog post, an organization that is funded by corporate donations can pay for congressional travel – even to visit the corporations that fund the organization – as long as the funds are not directly earmarked for such travel.
The trips in question were sponsored for a conferences in the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008. The violation came because the conference was sponsored by several corporations who employ lobbyists. Such organizations were severely restricted in their ability to sponsor congressional travel by ethics guidelines introduced in 2007.
Although Rangel claimed not to have knowledge of the trips' corporate underwriters, the ethics committee found evidence that his staffers Michelle Sherwood and George Dalley were concerned some of the sponsors were pulling out due to negative publicity and discussed how to keep their funding.
Rangel said in a press conference he thought the finding raised questions about just how far lawmakers' culpability reached for the actions of their staff. Rangel also blamed the ethics committee for pre-approving the trips.
The committee said Carib News had given misleading information in order to win pre-approval, and referred the actions to the Justice Department.
The committee report also cleared four other members who took the same trip, indicating future travelers will escape sanction for trip violations unless it can be proven they knew of the violation beforehand. However, all of the travelers will have to repay the cost of the trips.