Ethically Challenged

Maxine Waters: Ethically Challenged

In a big lake filled with enormous, intellectually dishonest bottom feeders, California Rep. Maxine Waters sucks up more detritus than most and spews forth the most ridiculous garbage with every exhale. In December, she openly thumbed her nose at House ethics rules and dared the House to do anything about her overt pressuring of lenders to modify mortgage loans made to her constituents. She boasted that she was effective because of the power of her office and the implied threats inherent in the mere fact that she made contact with lenders. She out-right taunted the Ethics Committee.

“The Ethics Committee said we are not to get involved — it’s a third party and contracts between citizens,” Rep. Waters said in an interview this week. “I don’t care. Throw the book at me. Put me in jail. Do whatever you have to do. I am defying them.”

The Ethics Committee responded with the sound of crickets chirping. Of course, “House of Representatives” and “Ethics Committee” are as incongruous as “Chuck Schumer” and “a vow of silence,” so we didn’t really expect “The Boyz in the House” to suddenly grow a pair.

Apparently browbeating lenders on behalf of borrowers was only a sideline for Waters. Last September, she turned her attention on the US Treasury Department and, according to numerous press reports, sought TARP CPP investments for some of her favorite banks, one on whose Board of Directors Rep. Waters’ husband had served and in which he had invested “at least $500,000.”

Waters, a senior member of the congressional committee that oversees banking, has come under scrutiny after OneUnited Bank received $12 million in bailout funds. Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, served on OneUnited’s board and held stock in the bank. The bailout money was provided in December, three months after Waters helped arrange a meeting between officials from the bank and other minority-owned institutions and Treasury representatives.

Rep. Waters launched a typically oily, smoke-filled defense.

She denied that the meeting was requested to benefit any specific bank. Rather, it was requested on behalf of “the National Bankers Assn., a trade group for a woman- and minority-owned banks, to discuss the struggles of its members, not anyone bank.” Unfortunately for that bogus assertion, Treasury officials stated that the meeting “became a discussion of one bank’s troubles.” Guess which bank? That could lead an observer to conclude that the trade group was merely a pretext for Ms. Waters’ minions to use the lever of “minority-owned banking” in general to jack some scratch out of TARP and save her hubby’s investment. It certainly smells to high heaven, and I’m not the only crank who feels the same way.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Waters’ behavior was “inappropriate and certainly has the appearance of impropriety, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of an actual conflict of interest under House rules.”

Sloan said Waters’ comments that the meeting focused on the general problems of minority-owned banks “don’t seem credible” in light of Treasury officials’ statements that the session became a discussion of one bank’s troubles.

“At a minimum, Treasury officials should have been apprised of her interest in the bank before the meeting took place,” Sloan said.

Waters’ efforts, she said, raise the question: “How many members of Congress are having meetings with the Treasury Department pleading for funds for certain banks?”

Sloan said: “Treasury has said they’re going to list the lobbying contacts. Does that include if members of Congress are lobbying? It certainly should.”

Waters took a couple of other tacks. In one, she played the race card, the feminist card, and the class warfare card, all in one sentence.

“I maintain that my advocacy on behalf of women, minority and community banks is appropriate,” she said in the statement.

Under that line of reasoning, any advocacy, as long as it’s done for anyone of those three groups, would be appropriate. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and the ends don’t justify the means. Didn’t Maxine’s Mama ever tell her that? Mine told me. The difference is, I listened to my Mama.

The other spurious deflection that Rep. Waters attempted was to deny that she had any power.

Although both my supporters and detractors often refer to me as influential, the truth is that I had no influence on what Bush administration officials in the Treasury Department or other departments did,” Waters said in a written statement.

In December, she shamelessly crowed about her power to intimidate, a power that arose from the mere fact that she’s a member of Congress. I guess that power applies only to private citizens or Democrats. Of course, she set up the meeting, didn’t she? Of course, the bank was later granted TARP money, wasn’t it? Coincidence, I suppose. At least the Treasury backs her up on the influence part if the argument, according to CNN, although not on the “full disclosure” aspect of this fetid affair.

The [New York] Times reported that Treasury officials attending the meeting, including Jeb Mason, did not know at the time about Waters’ ties to OneUnited Bank. Waters did not attend the meeting but did send her chief of staff.

[…]

Mason, the Treasury official, told the Los Angeles Times that Waters’ connection did not influence the Treasury Department’s decision to grant OneUnited the bailout funds, but said Waters was a key figure in setting up the meeting that led to it.

“When a member of the financial services committee calls, you pay special attention,” Mason told the Los Angeles Times.

Another sordid aspect of this stink bomb is that this is the Massachusetts-based bank for which Barney Frank, the chairman of the house committee on which Rep. Waters sits, also lobbied the Treasury Department. When it comes to sleaze inside The Beltway, you can rest assured that Barney and the Boyz are sure to be sniffing about.

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank was aware of Waters’ potential conflict of interest, according to Frank spokesman Steve Adamske, who said Frank told Waters he would work with then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to add a provision to the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) legislation dealing with minority-owned banks.

“Our staff worked on it. We never talked to anybody in Waters’ office about it,” said Adamske.

No, of course not. You were too busy talking directly to Waters about it to bother with anyone “in her office.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Barney told Maxine to “stay out of it.” I wonder if Barney believed that Maxine might ace him out of the political contributions that might flow from a grateful bank once the helping hand of TARP was extended?

Melanie Sloane makes clear that the success or failure of Waters’ alleged mission is irrelevant to the question of proper ethical behavior. The conflict of interest should have been disclosed. Then again, Waters has made it clear that “ethical principles” aren’t part of her personal baggage.

More than disclosure needs to be done. The nest of rodents inhabiting D.C. needs a good fumigating. Let’s start working on the 2010 mid-term Congressional elections and clean out the House. There are plenty of little piggies on both sides of the aisle; let’s send them to market or if you haven’t got the stomach for that, at least “all the way home.”

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