|Since the news broke that two members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), were being formally charged with congressional ethics violations, several bloggers, journalists, media outlets and analysts have written articles questioning whether the Congressional Black Caucus is being unreasonably targeted.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which was created by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2008 to crack down on ethics abuses, has investigated, some say, a disproportionate amount of black members of Congress as compared to their white counterparts. Of the 42 members of the CBC in the House of Representatives, seven, or 16.5 percent, have been investigated by the Ethics Committee in the past two years. The number of white members investigated in the past two years is close to 9 percent.
More obvious explanations for the difference in ethics probes aside, could there be another reason for the disparity between ethics investigations of Black and White members of Congress? One often cited theory is that some in Congress are politically motivated by the desire to strip the CBC from the powerful committees and subcommittees that they chair in the House. OCE permits external groups, some with a political agenda, to make requests for an investigation. Indeed, all but one of the investigations of black members within the past two years were begun based on claims filed by right-wing legal groups. If you consider the fact that Charles Rangel has had to relinquish his chairmanship of the House Ways & Means Committee, it could be said the tactic is working.
Since its inception, OCE has investigated at least eight members of the black caucus. However, pointing out this obvious disparity would subject one to be accused of playing the proverbial “race card.”
However, the charges that race somehow plays a factor in determining the cases OCE decides to pursue are not unwarranted, to insiders at least.
As noted by the Dallas Morning News reporter who broke the news about Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson directing CBC scholarship funds to her relatives, “there is a line of argument out there that, because so many members of the Black Caucus are very senior members from safe districts, politicians of any stripe from safe districts tend to get lolled into a sense of entitlement or security, and then maybe take shortcuts. That’s an argument that I have heard.”
That’s certainly one perspective. Another line of reasoning acknowledges that the committees that the CBC members chair are indeed power positions. And one need only equate the collective weight of the CBC as a voting bloc to realize that more may be at stake than meets the eye when considering the basis of the disproportionate number of inquiries into the ‘ethics’ of CBC members.
Consider if you will
There are 41 Members in the CBC
41 Votes in the Senate can block any Bill from becoming law.
*Note, there are currently no CBC members in the Senate
41 Votes are key to the passage of any bill in the House.
1 CBC member presently serves as the Democratic Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC)
4 CBC members hold Chairmanships in very influential committees in the House.
- Homeland Security: Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)
- Oversight: Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-NY)
- Judiciary: Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI)
- Ways and Means, Congressman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) [stepped down this year]
19 CBC members serve as Subcommittee Chairs on influential committees.
- Africa and Global Health (Foreign Affairs): Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ)
- Oversight (Ways & Means): Congressman John Lewis (D-GA)
- Economic Development, Public Bldg &Emergency Management (Transportation and Infrastructure): Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
- Housing and Community Opportunity (Financial Services): Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA)
- Legislative and Budget Process (Rules): Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
- Water Resources & Environment (Transportation): Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
- Energy and Environment (Science & Technology): Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
- Commerce, Trade & Consumer Protection (Energy & Commerce): Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL)
- Crime, Terrorism & Homeland Security (Judiciary): Congressman Robert C. Scott (D-VA)
- Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology (Financial Services): Congressman Melvin Watt (D-NC)
- Information Policy, Census and National Archives(Oversight and Reform ): Congressman W.M. Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-MO)
- Transportation and Infrastructure Protection ( Homeland Security): Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX)
- Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation (Transportation): Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD)
- Livestock, Dairy and Poultry (Agriculture): Congressman David Scott (D-GA)
- International Monetary Policy and Trade (Financial Services): Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
- Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology (Homeland): Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY)
- Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials (Transportation): Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL)
- Government Management, Organization and Procurement (Oversight and Reform): Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-CA)
- Courts and Competitive Policy (Judiciary): Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA)
9 Task Forces are led by CBC Members.
- Budget, Appropriations & Taxation: Congressman Robert C. Scott (D-VA)
- Community Reinvestment: Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
- CBC Outreach: Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD)
- Defense, Veterans & Homeland Security: Congressman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), and Congressman Sanford Bishop (D-GA)
- Economic Security: Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
- Energy & Environment: Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
- Foreign Policy & Int’l Relations: Congressman Donald M. Payne (D-NJ)
- Health & Wellness: Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen (D-VI), Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL)
- Judicial & Civil Rights: Congressman Melvin Watt (D-NC), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Congressman Robert C. Scott (D-VA)
A considerable amount of power and influence
Conspiracy theories aside, the ability to strip the CBC of their titles and memberships would imbue the taker with a substantial amount of influence and leverage in Congress. When the numbers stack up, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the possibility that there could be more to the recent sleu of ethics investigations than some might be willing to openly acknowledge.