Rep. Rangel in More Ethics Trouble?

Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

Ethical Escape

Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus may have violated House ethics rules by attending a three-day conference paid for by a number of powerful corporations early last month on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin.

The New York Post reports House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel and others enjoyed free airfare, meals, and hotel rooms — at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino — funded by donations from corporations such as IBM, AT&T, and recently bailed out CitiGroup.

House ethics rules state members of Congress cannot accept multi-day trips from a corporation that employs or retains a registered lobbyist. Members are also required to seek prior written permission to take free multi-day trips and file reports listing all financial sponsors within two weeks of each trip.

The Post writes that it could only find filings for New Jersey Democrat Donald Payne. However, Payne failed to list any of the corporations that funded the trip. A spokeswoman for Payne told the Post, "It was our understanding that the trip was sponsored by the Carib News Foundation. We are unaware of any corporate sponsors."

Carib News is listed as the conference organizer, but the group pays for the event through corporate donations and The Post reports officials with the sponsoring companies not only attended all of the conference events, but some were featured speakers at daily seminars.

Rangel could have been working on his beach body for that Caribbean conference by exercising in his semi-secret personal gym inside the Capitol. The Post says Rangel's workout room holds a flat-screen TV, exercise machine, mirror, mini-fridge and a telephone. He was seen locking up the room one afternoon this fall when Congress was in session to address the financial crisis. The makeshift gym is steps away from Rangel's suite of offices.

The room is officially listed as belonging to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Rangel's spokesman told the Post he couldn't shed any light on the situation saying, "I don't know anything about how he uses that room."

Not Singing His Praises

Former Hillary Clinton Deputy Communications Director Phil Singer has some words for MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews: step aside. Singer writes on his blog that if Matthews is seriously considering a run in 2010 for a Pennsylvania Senate seat, he should not be on the air: "When one of the network's most visible anchors is reported to be exploring a run for elected office, the network has an obligation to remove that person from its airwaves."

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Matthews sat down with state Democrats to discuss the prospect of challenging five-term Republican Arlen Specter.

Mixed Messages

Visitors to the Washington State capitol this month will be greeted with an extra piece of seasonal flare in addition to what they call the "holiday tree" and a Nativity scene. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was given permission to erect a 4.5 foot-tall sign declaring there is no God and "religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

The foundation's co-president says the sign is a reminder of the "real reason for the season, the winter solstice."

The Spokesman Review newspaper reports that because of past lawsuits over holiday displays, Washington state officials now say they will honor virtually any request for a religious or political display at their Capitol building.

— FOX News Channel's Zachary Kenworthy contributed to this report.