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January 27, 2009

Watchdog Group: Welch Should Recuse Himself

According a report in The Hill, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) has voluntarily given back $19,000 in campaign contributions from a fellow lawmaker who is under investigation for possible ethics violations.

Last week, Welch was named to the House Ethics Committee (officially dubbed the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct).

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) has donated the money to Welch from his reelection committee and leadership political action committee over the last four years, The Hill reports.

Welch's return of the money isn't good enough for one Washington watchdog group — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“If you have taken money from the guy, you shouldn’t be judging him. Even if you are objective, there’s a real appearance problem,” Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, told The Hill.

In a written statement to The Hill, Welch's Chief of Staff Bob Rogan defended his boss' move: “Since Chairman Rangel requested that the committee investigate matters related to him, Congressman Welch has, in an abundance of caution, returned all prior campaign contributions from Mr. Rangel."

The committee is looking into a variety alleged misdeeds including Rangel’s failure to report rental income on a Dominican Republic villa, alleged misuse of his congressional stationery for fundraising for the education center and his use of three rent-controlled New York apartments, the DC paper reports.

The committee, comprised of five members of the majority party and five members of the minority party, is charged with establishing and enforcing codes of ethical conduct, investigating breaches of applicable rules and laws, recommending enforcement actions, and providing advice and guidance to Members of Congress and their staff, according to Welch's office.

And, oddly enough, CREW played a minor supporting role during Welch's congressional bid against Republican Martha Rainville.

Rainville had accepted donations from key Republicans —  Tom DeLay of Texas, Roy Blunt of Mississipi to be exact — whom CREW labeled as two of the most unethical pols in DC. They argued, as did Democrats, that she should give back the money because it was "tainted."

Welch's campaign was quick to pounce on her taking the donations, too.

"Taking money from Delay’s closest associates raises real questions about how independent Martha Rainville is from the Republican leadership," Carolyn Dwyer, Welch’s campaign manager, told reporters at the time.

Don't ya just hate it when history has a way of catching up to you?


Welch's Chief of Staff Rogan just sent a note to Blurt about whether the congressman should step down as CREW has suggested.

"Congressman Welch accepts his new responsibilities as a member of the House Ethics Committee," said Rogan."He takes this assignment very seriously and, in the Vermont tradition, will call them as he sees them. In an abundance of caution, he has returned all campaign contributions from Mr. Rangel."

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