Published: Dec 28, 2010 8:10 PM EST
Updated: Dec 28, 2010 5:10 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. Charles Rangel has established a defense fund that will allow supporters to contribute up to $5,000 a year to help pay his legal bills.

The New York Democrat still owes money to his former lawyers, who represented him in an ethics case that ended with his censure.

The Charles B. Rangel Legal Expense Trust was approved by the House ethics committee, the same panel that successfully recommended that the House censure Rangel for financial and fundraising misconduct. Rangel announced the establishment of the fund on Tuesday.

H. Carl McCall, the former New York State comptroller, will serve as trustee. Contributions will be reported quarterly and disclosed publicly.

The House voted 333-79 on Dec. 2 to censure Rangel, a punishment that required the speaker of the House to publicly read the censure resolution while the 80-year-old lawmaker stood at the front of the chamber.

Rangel had sought a postponement of the ethics case, arguing that his lawyers abandoned him late in the ethics committee's investigation when he could no longer afford to pay them. He said he spent about $2 million defending himself.

The ethics panel declined the request, and said Rangel could have established the defense fund at the time to pay his legal bills.

A fundraising letter asked for a contribution of up to $5,000 by Dec. 31. Donors could then contribute up to that amount next year. The trust can accept corporate contributions, but not donations from federally registered lobbyists.

Rangel also has hired lawyer Bill OIdaker to defend him before the Federal Election Commission, where a complaint by a nonprofit group alleges he improperly paid legal bills from a political action committee.

The FEC complaint was filed by The National Legal and Policy Center, a group that has regularly complained about Rangel's conduct. The group contended that Rangel's National Leadership PAC could not be used under FEC rules for the congressman's legal defense.

Rangel has denied any wrongdoing.

He said when the complaint was filed, "The National Leadership PAC attorney has authorized the use of its funds for . legal expenses. A complaint can be filed by any entity and it should not be taken as fact."

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