By Jim Abrams
WASHINGTON–The House ethics committee announced three counts of alleged ethics violations against California Democrat Maxine Waters, including a charge that she requested federal help for a bank where her husband owned stock and had served on its board.
Waters, a 10-term representative from Los Angeles, has denied any wrongdoing and had urged the committee to come forth with details of the charges so that she can defend herself in a trial expected to take place this fall.
That trial would be the second handled by the ethics committee this fall. Another senior Democrat, former Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, faces 13 counts, including failing to disclose assets and income and delayed payment of federal taxes. With the election just three months away, Republicans have pounced on the two cases as indications of Democrats failing to live up to promises to end corruption in Washington.
The Waters case revolves around whether she helped OneUnited Bank obtain federal bailout funds in late 2008. Her husband, Sidney Williams, served as a member of OneUnited’s board of directors from January 2004 until April 2008, and was a stockholder in the bank.
The report says Waters asked the Treasury Department to meet representatives from the National Bankers Association, a trade group representing minority-owned and women-owned banks. The discussion at that September 2008 meeting centered on OneUnited Bank.
Waters, who chairs the Financial Services subcommittee on housing and community opportunity, contends that the National Bankers Association requested the meeting, which was held on behalf of the association, not OneUnited. OneUnited eventually received $12 million in bailout money.
She petitioned to have the charges dismissed, but the ethics committee rejected that request.
The first count said she violated House rules that members ”shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect credibility on the House.”
It said that her husband’s financial interest in OneUnited had declined from $350,000 at the end of June 2008, to about $175,000 in September, and would have been worthless if OneUnited had not received federal funds.
The second violation pertains to the use of improper influence that results in a personal benefit. It cites the failure of Waters to instruct her chief of staff to refrain from assisting OneUnited after she realized she should not be involved in the case.
The third count relates to the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not.
Waters says she won’t be taking a deal in response to charges that she violated ethics rules by helping a bank in which her husband owned stock gain federal bailout funds:
“No deals! I’m not going to the back room. Bring it out,” Waters said in an interview with The Grio.
Waters has maintained her innocence, saying that she did not benefit financially when the bank received federal money and that she is an advocate for minority-owned businesses.
Waters, known for her toughness, publicly says she doesn’t want a deal. She questioned why the official charges have taken so long to come out of the Office of Congressional Ethics and said that many of her constituents have remained supportive.
“(T)here was no benefit, and I know that there’s nothing in the report that shows it. OneUnitedBank did not get any immediate help from the Treasury. The bank then went to the private market and got $20 million in loans to help them stabilize their lending. The bank’s investors did not lose anything,” Waters said.
Waters said in an earlier statement that “the record will clearly show that in advocating on behalf of minority banks, neither my office nor I benefited in any way, engaged in improper action or influenced anyone.”