The Real Corrine Brown Scandal is Weak Ethics Enforcement in House

Rep. Corrine Brown, in background Rep. Charles Rangel

Lame duck Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL) is asking supporters for donations to fund her defense in her upcoming corruption trial. On her website, she asserts:

I am fighting the Department of Justice, which has unlimited resources. They have smeared my good name. They are trying to take my freedom.

In July, when Brown was indicted on fraud charges for using a charity called “Open Door for Education” as a slush fund for personal expenses, she claimed that if federal agents had not been so busy pursuing her, they could have prevented the Orlando disco massacre in June.

The evidence against Brown must be particularly strong because the Justice Department under Eric Holder and now Loretta Lynch has protected other African-American House members like Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) who clearly have committed indictable offenses.

Brown was defeated in a primary on August 30 while “serving” her twelfth two-year term in the House. Brown has been embroiled in scandal since she first stepped foot in Congress. Twenty-four years is an awfully long time to wait for the system to work.

The real scandal is not Brown’s slush fund but that the institutions of ethics enforcement are so dysfunctional that the likes of Corrine Brown can last in Congress for 24 years.

In 1998, when my daughter, now in college, was a baby, we filed a Complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in the wake of media reports that Brown received a $10,000 payment from Henry Lyons, the president of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), which she failed to disclose. The payment came to light in the course of an investigation of Lyons that sent him to prison for misappropriating $4 million in NBC funds.

At the time, NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm called it a “slam dunk” for the FEC. The violation was obvious, and federal prosecutors had already done the investigative legwork. But the FEC took no action, two years later announcing, “This matter is less significant relative to other matters pending before the Commission.” FEC spokeswoman Kelly Huff explained, ”We get so many complaints we have to prioritize. Because we only have so much staff and so many resources, we can only handle so many.”

In 2000, Brown was let off the hook on another matter. Brown’s daughter, Shantrel, who at the time lived with her and was employed by the Environmental Protection Agency, accepted a $46,000 Lexus from an associate of an African businessman named Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko.

Sissoko was in jail for bribing a U.S. Customs official to facilitate the delivery of two helicopters for use in Mali and Gambia. Rep. Brown lobbied then-Attorney General Janet Reno and other government officials to try to reduce his prison sentence.

The House Ethics Committee took up the matter but would later drop it, saying it was hampered by an inability to interview witnesses in Africa. It did say that Brown exercised “poor judgment” and “created substantial concerns regarding both the appearance of impropriety and the reputation of the House of Representatives.”

When the non-action was announced, Brown claimed, “If the committee could have proven anything, they would have. It has been a thorough and exhaustive investigation, and today it’s over.”

Brown’s reaction highlights the problem. Corrupt members of Congress know that the FEC and the House Ethics Committee only will take action in the most egregious cases.

Since 2000, Brown has survived, skipping from scandal to scandal, until perhaps now. Maybe if the FEC and House Ethics Committees did their jobs back in 2000, her constituents could have been spared such embarrassing representation.