Rep. Maxine Waters, one of the House's highest profile black lawmakers, faces ethics charges related to her alleged activities on behalf of a bank whose board her husband sat on and owned shares of.
In an announcement Monday, the House Committee on Standards of Official said it had empaneled a committee of members to hear charges against the California Democrat.
The charges are related to a meeting Waters requested of Bush Administration Treasury officials. At the meeting, which Waters didn't attend officials of the National Bankers Association, an African American group, brought up the concerns of only one company, BankOne. Her husband was board member and shareholder at the time.
In a report issued in August 2009, investigators for the House ethics committee said:
There is a substantial reason to believe that Representative Waters' conduct may have violated House Rule 23, clause 3 and House precedent regarding conflict of interest when she called then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and requested that Treasury Department officials meet with representatives from the National Bankers Association. A meeting was in fact granted, however,the discussion at the meeting centered on a single bank—OneUnited. Representative Waters' husband had been a board member of the bank from 2004 to 2008 and, at the time of the meeting, was a stock holder of the bank.
In a statement, Waters professed her innocence. An excerpt:
As the financial crisis was unfolding, jeopardizing the health of banks large and small, the National Bankers Association (NBA), a trade organization which represents the interests of more than 100 minority-owned banks, requested a meeting with Treasury Department officials. It is important to clarify that this meeting was requested and scheduled on behalf of the NBA, not on behalf of OneUnited Bank as has been suggested.
A letter from NBA to Treasury, included in the OCE report (see page 39), dated September 6th, 2008, requesting the meeting indicates the intent of the meeting and the dire concern expressed by the association on behalf of its members. The NBA contacted Treasury directly, just as other trade associations did, to request a meeting so that its members could discuss their concerns regarding the crisis facing minority banks. I followed up on the association's request by asking then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to schedule such a meeting, as did other members of Congress. Secretary Paulson recognized that the NBA's concerns about the future of minority banks were valid and arranged for a meeting.
I did not attend the meeting and thus did not participate in the conversation. The OCE focuses on concerns expressed during the meeting between NBA and Treasury on behalf of a single bank. However, NBA's follow up letter, dated September 10, 2008 and also included in the OCE's report (see page 59), to Treasury reiterates the organization's concerns about the fiscal health of its members generally.
The announcement that the Waters case would proceed came just days after the ethics panel said it was forging ahead with charges against another of the best known members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Charles Rangel.
Rangel, who stepped down as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee in March, was charged with not initially disclosing income and financial accounts and misusing his official position to try and raise money from foundations and companies for a public policy center to be named for him at the City College of New York.
Waters faces a trial in the fall unless she can negotiate a settlement.