Last October, House Republicans in Washington DC sought to strip Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) of his chairmanship pending the outcome of ethics investigations into his activities. Only two Democrats joined that attempt: Travis Childers and Gene Taylor, both from Mississippi.

Last week, following a public rebuke by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (commonly referred to as the "Ethics Committee"), Rangel stepped down from his chairmanship, heading off another Republican attempt to dethrone him - one Democratic leadership feared would succeed.

In 2007 and 2008 Rangel took a corporate sponsored trip to the Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference on the island of St. Maarten. Those corporations employ federal lobbyists and the Ethics Committee determined the tropic vacation violated House gift rules. Rangel maintains he didn't know it was a corporate sponsored trip and received preapproval, but the Ethics Committee, citing memos from Rangel's staff discussing the nature of the trip, determined he was still responsible.

Mississippi's own Congressman Bennie Thompson, Chairman of House Homeland Security, took the same trip. The House Ethics Committee cleared Thompson. It determined Thompson did not know there were corporate sponsors, did not admonish him, but did require him to repay the cost of the trip.

To believe Thompson was unaware of corporate sponsors at the event is to believe he did not see the posters or banners around the conference with the corporate sponsors' names and logos, did not hear other speakers thank these sponsors by name and announce that the conference "can't be done without the sponsors," did not hear or see representatives of the sponsors address the event, did not notice the sponsor logos on the gifts handed out at registration, and did not see the program agenda that listed the sponsors of his presentations.

According to the attachments to the documents Thompson signed and submitted to the Ethics Committee, the London based financial firm HSBC sponsored Thompson's keynote speech on "National Security: A Pre-Condition for Success."

In defense of the Delta congressman, prior to the trips Thompson submitted the required documents to the Ethics Committee which approved his trip and travel. He claims he was ignorant of the sponsorships and I suppose we should take him at his word.

What distinguishes former Chairman Rangel from current Chairman Thompson are a number of additional allegations against Rangel: that he has used his rent-controlled apartment in Harlem for a campaign office, that he failed to pay taxes on rental income from his Dominican Republic beach house, as well as other personal financial and campaign contribution questions

But then, Thompson also has additional allegations.

A July 2009 internal status report from the House Ethics Committee notes two other ongoing investigations connected to Thompson. The Washington Post broke one story where a former disgruntled Thompson committee staffer alleged a recent hearing by the House Homeland Security Committee into credit card issues was actually a shakedown for campaign contributions. The Post reported, "Within a few weeks of the hearing, Thompson collected $15,000 in donations from the credit card industry and its Washington based lobbyists....No legislation on card security has been introduced."

The New York Times raises the same allegations of corporate funds washed through a foundation that plagued the Caribbean trip, but applies them instead to an annual junket hosted by Thompson in Tunica, Mississippi. Again corporate sponsors were listed on the event's program; but this time they were not included in the otherwise identical materials submitted for Ethics Committee preapproval. When asked about this issue by the Times, House Ethics Committee Chairman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said if corporate funds were laundered through the foundation, it would constitute "fraud."

And finally, the online publication Talking Points Memo reported that corporate lobbyists paid "Chic Productions" to conduct events honoring Thompson. Thompson's committee communications director is one of the principles in "Chic Productions" raising the specter that lobbyists are paying a staffer to host an event for their boss, where the lobbyists then can have access to the congressman. "Chic Productions" also organized the Tunica event.

Are these investigations into Thompson's alleged activities just political attacks? Some in Washington point fingers not at Republicans, but at allies of the Obama White House. Thompson led the investigation into the gate crashing event at the White House in November of last year, with his committee threatening to subpoena White House social secretary Desiree Rogers in opposition to the wishes of the Obama Administration. Shortly afterward, these allegations in the Post and the Times began to leak out.

Was it a shot across the bow of Congressman Thompson? Could the bare knuckle Chicago style politics of the Obama Administration be the source of the Thompson accusations? The motive is irrelevant, and the Ethics Committee should investigate and report the results to once again clear Thompson, or admonish any wrongdoing.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at