The House ethics committee released formal charges Monday against Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, that claim she improperly helped a bank in which her husband owned stock receive federal funds.
Representative Waters and Mikael Moore, her grandson and chief of staff, are accused of improperly intervening in dealings between OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which Waters's husband owned stock, and the federal government.
The charges laid out in the 10-page "statement of alleged violation" say that by allowing Mr. Moore to help OneUnited obtain a meeting with the Treasury department that led to $12 million in bailout funds, Waters violated House rules that say members:
Waters is the second congressional Democrat to be accused of ethics lapses in recent weeks. Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York faces 13 charges – including failing to pay taxes on a rental property in the Dominican Republic. He said Monday that he hoped to strike a plea deal to avoid an ethics trial.
Waters is also accused of violating the Code of Ethics for Government Service, which forbids those in government from dispensing special favors or privileges.
According to the charges against Waters, her husband Sidney Williams held stock in OneUnited valued at $350,000 as of June 30, 2008. By the time OneUnited met with Treasury officials in September, its value had dropped to $175,000.
OneUnited secured more than $12 million in Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) funds later that year, without which, the committee writes, Mr. Williams's "financial interest in OneUnited would have been worthless."
Responding to that claim in a motion to dismiss the charges, also released Monday, Waters's attorneys say that the ethics committee "fails to acknowledge that the value was unchanged after OneUnited received the TARP funds in December. Thus," they argued, "if TARP funding neither saved OneUnited nor increased its stock value, this committee cannot establish that Rep. Waters received any financial benefit as a result of her alleged actions." The motion to dismiss was denied.
Waters maintains her innocence and has pushed for a public hearing. "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," she said in a statement released last week.
The case against Waters stems from misunderstanding and misinformation, she said. "This started with a Treasury employee who was [mentored by] Karl Rove," she told Los Angeles radio show "The Grio" Monday morning.
"He remembered that I had disclosed that my husband sat on the board of directors of OneUnited Bank at one time. He took this public information to the [ethics committee] to make it look as if there was a conflict of interest. The committee looked at it and said, 'Aha, maybe there is a conflict here.' And because their investigation is so limited, they came up with the idea that I received some benefit from the meeting that I requested."
Reports that House Financial Services Committee chair Rep. Barney Frank (D) warned Waters to "stay out of" the deal between OneUnited and the Treasury to avoid a conflict of interest have been misconstrued, Waters said Monday. While the Massachusetts congressman and Waters did discuss OneUnited, Waters said Frank's inquiry was in reference to the bank being based in Boston.
"He said 'you're right, they are my constituents, stay out of it, I'll take a look at what OneUnited is requesting,' " Waters told The Grio.
Waters has faced ethics allegations before, as the Monitor reported last week, but has a long list of defenders from her 34-year political career.