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The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct filed a formal case Monday against Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California) for ethics violations. In a case under review since April 2009, Waters is accused of using political influence to help OneUnited Bank, the largest African American owned bank in the country, to receive $12 million in bail out funds in 2008. Water’s husband, Sidney Williams, was a board member of OneUnited Bank at the time.
“Starting with the Office of Congressional Ethics report released today, 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,” Waters said in a statement issued Monday that responded to the charges.
Waters serves as the California representative for the 35th District, elected to a 10th term in the House of Representatives with 80 percent of the vote in November 2008. She has served in public office for more than 30 years, and represents a large part of Central Los Angeles, Inglewood, Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale and sections of Playa Del Ray and Westchester. She is a member of various committees and subcommittees on issues ranging from immigration and homeland security to housing development and African American women’s issues.
Coinciding with the formal charges, the ethics committee also released the August 2009 report on the case conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) in the case. The OCE, which is governed by eight private citizens, recommend that the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, an independent organization comprised of 10 Democratic and 10 Republican representatives, further review the matter.
The OCE’s report focused on a meeting that took place in September 9, 2008, between of National Bankers Association (NBA) representatives and Treasury Department officials, where OneUnited was main topic of discussion. Waters contacted former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in September of 2008 to set up the meeting. While she did not physically participate in the meeting, her involvement has been questioned because of her conflict of interest. Waters will present her case to the ethics committee in official proceedings this fall.
Waters is formally being accused by the ethics committee of violating House Rule 23, clause 3, which states, “A member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall receive no compensation, nor shall he (or she) permit any compensation to accrue to his (or her) beneficial, interest from any source.”
Waters defended her actions, claiming that she has always supported minority-owned banks like OneUnited.
“The accusations against me stem from work I have done throughout my decades of public service as an advocate for minority communities and businesses in California and nationally,” Waters said in the statement.
Robert Cooper, former vice president and current senior counsel of OneUnited Bank and chairman-elect of the NBA, and Kevin Cohee, chairman of OneUnited Bank, requested the meeting and were present at it, along with an NBA lawyer. Three months later, OneUnited received the bail out funds. The report states that Cooper and Cohee were contacted for interviews but refused to participate. Waters said she was simply following up on a previous meeting request by the NBA and believes her actions are consistent with the type of communication other members of congress do on a routine basis.
“The suggestion that I could gain personally from one phone call made to assist the National Bankers Association in getting a meeting with the Treasury Department is not credible,” Waters said. “Even the OCE acknowledges that the meeting resulted in no action. Although it leveled the accusation, the OCE also failed to show that I received any benefit or engaged in any ‘improper exercise of official influence.’”
The OCE report also states that Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) was involved, perhaps even advising Waters to “walk away” due to the ethical conflict. Waters responded, in the report, by downplaying their relationship, saying that interactions with Frank occur as “‘drive bys’ where things are said in passing.” However, an op-ed piece, written by Frank on February 22, 2008, for the Weekly Compass of New Bedford, Massachusetts, states that Waters is “one of [his] closest collaborators.”
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