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Maxine Waters: charges highlight mixed ethics record

California Rep. Maxine Waters, a powerful 'liberal institution' in Congress, has raised ethics eyebrows in the past.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / August 3, 2010

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington in October 2009. A House investigative panel has charged California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters with violating ethics rules. Waters, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, would face a trial in the fall unless she negotiates a settlement.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File


Los Angeles

Did the storm surrounding Rep. Maxine Waters come out of the blue?

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The California Democrat faces a House Ethics Committee trial. Congressional investigators accuse her of helping to steer federal funds into a bank to which she had personal connection. Representative Waters has fierce defenders, but that doesn't mean her reputation is beyond reproach.

Waters is a bit like a modern version of an urban political boss, says Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney. "Just like an old-style boss, she has admirers who believe that she has brought them great benefits," he says. But she also has detractors who think that she and her family have profited from their political activity, he says.

Jasmyne Cannick, a Los Angeles-based author who writes about the African-American community, says “everyone knows that Maxine Waters is not only beloved in her district, but across the state and country."

But government watchdogs point out what they call a series of ethical lapses for Waters.

“I don’t think this investigation comes out of nowhere," says Jessica Levinson, director of political reform for the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS). "It’s not like she has a sterling reputation on ethical issues."

In 2005, 2006, and 2009, Washington's Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics named Waters one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress. Citizens Against Government Waste named her "Porker of the Month" in 2009 for directing an earmark to the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center. And a 2004 investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that some in Waters's family had made more than $1 million from 1996 to 2004 by, among other things, doing business with businesses that Waters had helped politically.

Waters is being investigated for her role in arranging meetings in 2009 between US Treasury officials and representatives of minority-owned banks, including one in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owns stock. The Office of Congressional Ethics issued an 80-page report Monday showing its bipartisan board had voted unanimously that Waters might have violated US House rules concerning conflicts of interest.