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Democrats won't oust Rangel, their cash cow

An outburst by a fierce character played by Anthony Quinn in the film "Lawrence of Arabia" keeps popping up when one thinks of the embattled Congressman Charles B. Rangel, fighting off charges of avarice and tax avoidance.

Editorialists and others want the Manhattan Democrat to step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee as the Ethics Committee expands its probe of his exotic real estate deals and amended sworn financial reports.

The riveting Quinn character, a bandit sheik named Auda abu Tayi, was likewise taunted in his own camp by the British agent T.E. Lawrence for being a mercenary crook, when abu Tayi cried out: "I carry 23 great wounds, all got in battle. . . . The Turks pay me a golden treasure, yet I am poor because I am a river to my people!"

Rangel is a Mississippi of money to his people, the Democratic Party. That is a huge reason why House leaders are finding it difficult to strand him in the desert. By his own campaign finance reports, which could be as incomplete as his personal finance affidavits, Rangel donated $2.4 million to candidates and party organizations for last year's crucial campaign.

A dozen state Democratic organizations got four- and five-figure gifts from Rangel. In addition, the New York State Democratic Committee got $100,000. He gave the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee $250,000; $141,000 went to the party's U.S. Senate campaign and probably more than $250,000 to arms of the National Democratic Committee.

Dozens of individual House candidates got Rangel money ranging from $2,000 to Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who was facing bribery charges then and was recently convicted of same, to $39,000 raised for Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning.

Kirsten Gillibrand, then a House candidate and now our senator, got Rangel money. So did Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., now secretary of labor. Likewise, Hillary Rodham Clinton, now secretary of state. Rangel's report shows he raised and gave more than $60,000 to Rep. Dan Maffei, D-Syracuse.

In the Capitol's nest of secrets, no one will ever know whether the Democratic Party's leadership saw in the impregnable Rangel, who wins by 90 percent in his Harlem district, a way to turn a stream of money into a cascade.

But when he was only a minority member of the powerful committee in 2004, he gave away a fifth of what he donated last year. First elected in 1970, Rangel became chairman in 2007. That put him in charge of all tax legislation, all foreign trade bills, Social Security issues, trust funds for airports and highways, even adoptions.

Rangel gets campaign money from everybody, from steamfitters, jewelers groups, defense contractors, corporations that outsource and lobbying firms. Seemingly, he got all he wanted and he turned his campaign operation into a slush fund to expand Democrats' House and Senate majorities.

It worked, but now the Rangel torrent is a rapid to some members, who are being charged with using tainted money. Some have returned cash or donated it to charity. Massa and Maffei say simply the money is spent. Presumably, House ethics investigators want to know what else Rangel may have received besides campaign money. By all accounts, Rangel is not "poor" like Auda abu Tayi.

Besides his largess, Rangel enjoys special standing because he is the first African-American to head the most influential panel in Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., won't ask him to resign his chairmanship.

Return of "The Fonz" -- Former Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., has revived his political action committee and made modest donations to six Democrats. Among them are Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-Manhattan, whom he slurred in 1998, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. The four family PAC donors include D'Amato's controversial brother, Armand.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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