Complaint Filed with FEC Alleging Rangel Campaign Cash Irregularities

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a non-profit watchdog group, has filed a complaint against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) with the Federal Election Commission, alleging Rangel illegally used nearly $400,000 from his National Leadership PAC to pay the legal team defending him on ethics charges before the House of Representatives.

NLPC filed the complaint Monday and posted it on their website Tuesday.

Rangel was recently convicted of 11 of 13 ethics violations and is facing reprimand or censure by the full House. He retained former Clinton White House Counsel Lanny Davis to defend him. Rangel's principal campaign committee, Rangel for Congress, paid Davis' law firm, Onick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, $100,000.

That payment was legal, as a candidate's principal campaign committee may pay legal expenses under certain circumstances.

However, on January 5, 2009, Rangel's leadership PAC paid Onick, Herrington & Sutcliffe an additional $100,000 -- a payment NLPC maintains is illegal.

A leadership PAC is a particular type of committee used by politicians to, among other things, funnel money to other candidates and to pay certain indirect costs of a candidate's campaign.

In its complaint, NLPC maintains leadership PACs are specifically barred from paying legal costs for candidates because lobbyists are barred from contributing to legal defense funds.

Also in 2009, Rangel retained new counsel, the firm of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. While in 2009 Rangel's National Leadership PAC did not make any payments to his new firm, according to NLPC's complaint it did pay an additional $293,000 in 2010 to the firm. In 2010, Rangel for Congress also made payments to Zuckerman Spaeder totaling some $282,000.

Tom Anderson, director of the government integrity program for NLPC, said Tuesday that the reason he believed Rangel used his National Leadership PAC to pay his legal fees was because Rangel did not want to set up a legal defense fund.

"He was urged on three separate occasions to set one up," Anderson said. "He refused to do it."

Anderson said he believes there's a simple explanation for that as well.

"If you set one up you cannot take money from lobbyists," he said. "The restrictions on a legal defense fund make it harder to raise money."

And take money from lobbyists Rangel has.

Rangel's National Leadership PAC took in well over $500,000 in this last election cycle after his legal troubles began.

There is only one reason, of course, for lobbyists to funnel money to politicians, and in particular to the head of the House Ways and Means Committee (which writes tax law): they're hoping for favorable treatment.