Tax Analysts Blog

Memo to Rangel: Stand Down, Go Home

Posted on Aug 13, 2010

We have been told that Charlie Rangel was war hero. That's fine, but we no longer care. We have been told that Rangel did a lot for the little fellow during his many years in Congress. Again, we don't care anymore. Rangel's few remaining supporters make him out to be the Patron Saint of progressive taxation. Sorry, that gets you nowhere.

What we do care about is that our elected officials -- whether they be liberal or conservative -- do not behave like spoiled children. That's where Rangel is a major disappointment. It's obvious the game is up; yet he refuses to stand down. So much for the concept of a graceful exit.

I'm an attorney, not a psychotherapist, but I do understand that old men in positions of power often have trouble letting go. Upon retirement they no longer occupy the spotlight and people stop listening to them. Influence peddlers no longer seek their attention. Once busy appointment books suddenly grow barren. All of that's hard on the ego.

Listen, Charlie. Retirement won't be so bad. You can go sailing, take up golf, hit the lecture circuit. You're 80 years old and you've enjoyed a good run. Now please call it a day.

Besides, you have no one to blame but yourself. Think about it, Charlie. You were chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, our nation's top taxwriter. And what did you do .... fail to pay taxes related to your villa in the Dominican Republic. For crying out loud -- if there is one thing the Ways and Means chairman should not do it's fail to pay his taxes. What kind of a message does that send to the country's millions of honest taxpayers? It weakens society's faith that our tax system (which is largely premised on self-reporting) is fair, honest, and legitimate.

There's a fine line between the Ways & Means chairman forgetting to declare income from his Caribbean vacation properties and Leona Helmsley professing that taxes are only for little people. We were counting on you, Charlie, and right now we're feeling pretty let down.

Had I been in your position I would have likely paid extra taxes on any offshore income simply to avoid the faintest hint of tax avoidance. I would have employed a team of tax preparers and instructed them take the least aggressive position possible on my tax returns. Come to think of it, I do that anyway because I work for Tax Analysts and care about our institutional reputation.

There's a parallel concept for this in the world of legal ethics. On passing the bar exam, young attorneys are sworn to avoid even the "appearance of impropriety" during their career. Did you forget that lesson, Charlie? It would seem so.

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