The Problem With Incumbency.

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On some level, New York Congressman Charlie Rangel is unfairly maligned. Yes, he's a fairly corrupt member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), but he's not the only corrupt member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Maxine Waters is also under investigation for violation of House ethics rules (she is alleged to have helped a bank with ties to her husband receive federal funds), and as Politico reports, "At one point this year, all eight lawmakers under formal investigation by the House ethics committee, including Rangel and Waters, were black Democrats."

It's worth noting that each of those eight black Democrats come from safe seats, which they've held for six terms or more. Together, the CBC members currently or formerly under investigation -- Reps. Rangel, Waters, Carolyn Kilpatrick, Donald Payne, Gregory Meeks, Bennie Thompson, Mel Watt, and Jesse Jackson Jr. -- have served 80 terms in Congress, an average of 10 terms per person. They represent districts with an average black population of 51.45 percent, and a median black population of 55.8 percent. Insofar that there is an ethics problem within the Congressional Black Caucus, it almost certainly has to do with the fact that these members have an astoundingly high rate of incumbency. With few challengers and total control over their local party organizations, it's no surprise that they've become lax in their ethical responsibilities.

For my part, I don't think there's anything particularly racial about these ethics investigations; it's just that long-term incumbency breeds this kind of corruption. Indeed, if you take a quick look at each of the congresspeople under investigation, you'll notice that most are long-serving incumbents. Simply put, when you're isolated from credible challengers, you have no electoral incentive to stay clean. In the long-run, the best way to combat corruption is to create as many competitive districts as possible so that incumbents do not become complacent.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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