Outspoken lawmaker says ethics charges are false and she isn’t backing down from this fight

LOS ANGELES ( – Rep. Maxine Waters is fighting back against accusations that she violated congressional ethics rules and has charged the regulatory office with handling its investigation of her poorly.

The outspoken legislator isn’t cowering, hiding, ducking or dodging, instead she is vowing to take the fight to the ethics office in an upcoming public hearing. The hearing date has not been set, but it will happen in the fall.


“I’m very confident in the way that I’m handling this.I’m not going to take a back room deal.I’m not going to agree to violation of any of the rules of Congress in order to get a slap on the wrist. I want to go all the way to trial,” Rep Waters told The Final Call in an Aug. 5 interview.

She is awaiting the actual date of the hearing, which is linked to allegations that she acted improperly to help a bank in which her husband had a financial interest. Rep. Waters, not known for mincing words, says charges by the Office of Congressional Ethics are false.

The California Democrat is also one of several Black lawmakers facing investigations and fellow veteran congressman Charles Rangel of New York is facing a public hearing on charges of wrongdoing. The ethics office is an independent office that was created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008. Of nine congressmen currently under investigation, seven are Black. “A White Congressman who was underinvestigation had his case dismissed last Thursday, while at the same time the Committee agreedto open full investigations of Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson,” said Dr. Maulana Karenga, a leading Black scholar and professor in the Department of Africana Studies at California State University-Long Beach. Rep. Laura Richardson has been cleared of charges her bank gave her special treatment ona home mortgage.

Dr. Karenga believes there was no coincidence in the charges against Representatives Waters and Rangel.Dr. Karenga calls the charges political and selective, coming out before November elections and are attempts to block Republican criticism. Both lawmakers are high status targets as long term, highly visible, vocal and assertive politicians, he says. They are vulnerable to profiling and stereotyping as “suspect” and “probably guilty” because of their racial identities, according to Dr. Karenga.

There is a long history of selective investigations and singling out Black officials for prosecution in Congress and the larger society, which increased under President Ronald Reagan and in the 1990s with half of the 26 Black members of Congress investigated, he adds.

“This targeting is part of an ongoing process to discredit, disrupt and deny Black political representation and shared power. It is to create and maintain the myth of Black politicians’ incompetence, corruption and self-serving behavior. And it is important to note that this is a major focus in the media, much more and longer than the Whites who are investigated and charged. It is racial spectacle and reinforcement of racist conceptions of Black people in and out of office,” Dr. Karenga says in a Final Call interview conducted by email.

Battle is about access, says lawmaker

On Aug. 4, about a year after the ethics probe began, Rep. Waters requested not just a hearing date and asked that all documents pertaining to charges against her be made public.In poor decision making, the ethics office took the investigation all the way up to the congressional break without making any official charges or setting a trial date, she complains.

“They just left this hanging out here for another six weeks, with people raising questions, trying to figure out what’s going on, innuendo and misinformation.It has been handled very badly and I am convinced I cannot roll over.I cannot make a deal.The facts have to come out.The truth has to come out.I am confident that we have the truth and I am so looking forward to the trial and I want them to make the charges and move forward to trial,” she insists.

The ethics office charged specifically that Rep. Waters advocated for Black-owned One United Bank when she helped facilitate a 2006 meeting with One United Bank and U.S. Treasury Henry Paulson and personally benefited because her husband owns stock in the bank.

Incorrect, says Rep. Waters.

Rep. Waters maintains she acted properly on behalf of constituents when she helped set up a meeting between Sec. Paulson and the National Bankers Association, which includes One United Bank. Her husband sat on the board of the bank at one time and One United Bank wasn’t singled out for bailout funds or special treatment, she says. Rep. Waters adds that she wasn’t at the meeting and played no other role in discussions between the Treasury Dept. and Black banks buffeted by economic problems.

“Well in the first place, when they (the National Bankers Association) went to the Treasury, there was no such thing as the bailout funds.That hadn’t even come into existence yet and when they were told they could not be helped at the Treasury Department, the bank went out and got private capital to the tune of $20 million, which means that it stabilized the bank and it met the definition of adequate capital,” Rep. Waters says.That is what made One United later eligible for bailout funds, she explains.

Even the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reiterated more than once that nobody influenced the agency, called, sent them a letter, nor emailed, Rep. Waters says.

Are Black officials targeted?

The Waters probe follows a battle faced by Rep. Rangel, who is seeking re-election amid allegations of 13 ethics charges, which include failure to report income on financial disclosure forms and alleged fundraising violations.

Like Dr. Karenga, other Black analysts see racial profiling targeting Congressional Black Caucus members, and other Black elected officials, before important mid-term congressional elections and other voting in November.

Rep. Waters says she does not want to cloud the issue by veering away from her facts, plans to deal with thoughts on the motivation behind the ethics charges after she wins her fight.

“I don’t want anybody saying I’m trying to hide behind blackness.I have the facts,” she says.

The real issue is Blacks, small businesses, and average Americans have a hard time getting access to federal agencies–contrary to big corporations like Bank of America, Citibank and Wall Street firms, who have first name relationships with the heads of the FDIC and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates financial markets, Rep. Waters says.

The only hope for small banks is to seek help from their elected officials, says the longtime lawmaker.

Although Rep. Waters admits the charges will likely have negative implications for the Democratic Party, but the party has not pressured her to make any decisions or deals, she insists.

“The party in power is always placed on the defensive when there are accusations against any of its members. This diverts attention from the real issues–like job creation, economic recovery, health care and Wall Street reform–that should be discussed,” Rep. Waters adds.

Dr. David Horne, executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute and professor of African Studies at California State University, Northridge, foresees four possible outcomes: Rep. Waters will be exonerated; convicted of one of the violations; not expelled but slapped on the wrist if convicted; and because her constituents love her and do not care about these charges, they will bring her back just as people did with Adam Clayton Powell, the first Black congressional representative in New York. Ethics charges though led to his departure from Congress.

No matter how foolish or fruitless the current attack on Rep. Waters may be, it is about politics as usual, and not race, Dr. Horne says.

Democrats bending backwards to show the Republicans that they can be fair and prosecute one, or some, of their own, but the Republicans do not care, he says.

The GOP defended its lawmakers though they were outright crooks, Dr. Horne adds.

“Here’s the point: Charlie Rangel is going to be convicted of at least two or three of those 13 violations and the results of that for this 80-year-old congressman, who’s been there for 40 years, will be a repeat of what they did with Adam Clayton Powell, whom he came in to replace,” Dr. Horne said.Mr. Powell was excluded from his congressional seat because of allegations he misappropriated travel and staff funds.

Unlike Rep. Waters, Dr. Horne predicts Rep. Rangel’s eventual conviction for ethics violations, which include charges of using a city subsidized apartment for his campaign headquarters and failing to pay income taxes, will not be a slap on the wrist.

Either way, Blacks and others who are underserved in New York will suffer, according to Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report, an online news journal.“Black elected officials are always targeted.That does not mean they’re always innocent … what we are most disappointed in Charlie Rangel about is not properly representing his district and we consider it to be corruption when you work against the interest of your people and the people who elected you–so our definition of corruption is not the prosecutor’s definition,” Mr. Ford said.

He finds it laughable that ethics investigators are up in arms about Rep. Waters setting up a meeting between Black bankers and then-Treasury Secretary Paulson, when he was the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, a major player in the meltdown of America’s economy in 2007 and 2008.Mr. Paulson was a part of that debacle although at the time of the meeting, he was acting as a representative of the United States, Mr. Ford argues.

“The policy now under President Obama is that these corporations will not be allowed to fail.If that is the case, that is the greatest conflict of interest between politicians, elected officials, and corporations that we have ever witnessed in the history of the country,” Mr. Ford said.

“Goldman Sachs received $15 billion of bailout funds yet One United got a paltry $12 million, less than a thousand times as much money as what is considered one of the largest Black banks yet there is no conflict of interest that a former CEO of Goldman Sachs oversaw the process?” he asks.

According to Dr. William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University, race is always an issue. He compares the recent probes of Black lawmakers to conduct attributed to Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, who was voted most corrupt recently by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics for abusing his position as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The Washington-based group accused Rep. Lewis of steering hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to family and friends in direct exchange for contributions to his campaign committee and political action committee, says Dr. Boone. Rep. Lewis was never charged with wrongdoing despite a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

“This just points up when the oligarchs at the very heights of Wall Street criminocracy are in charge, all moral and legal considerations of fairness are out the window, and the only people that get punished are those far, far, far below and that includes our sister Maxine (Waters). I don’t think anything’s going to happen to Maxine. This is the weakest case imaginable and compared to these people, you can’t do crime like they do.Crime is impossible.They have taken it to a new level,” Mr. Ford said.

Related news:

Brown: Maxine Waters’ Alleged Ethics Violation is a Charade (08-11-2010)

Black America needs to monitor congressional probes (FCN, 08-04-2010)