Ethics charges against Maxine Waters add to Democrats' woes

Rep. Maxine Waters of California is the second Democrat in two weeks to face a trial over alleged ethics violations. Republicans will use the charges to try to gain ground in midterm elections.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File
In this Oct. 28, 2009 file photo, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Representative Waters faces trial for alleged ethics violations.

The House ethics committee set up a second panel Monday in as many weeks for the purpose of putting a member of Congress on public trial.

First was Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York, accused of tax evasion and campaign violations. Now Rep. Maxine Waters (D) of California faces trial for allegedly steering federal funds toward a bank with connections to her husband.

The prospect of two fall trials of House Democrats – both of them prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus – is pure poison to the Democratic effort to minimize expected losses in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.

IN PICTURES: Ethically challenged Congressmen

In both cases, party leaders wish the members in question would reach a settlement before their cases go to trial, but both have said that they wish to clear their names in public, not agree to fault in a plea deal.

The ethics committee released an 80-page report Monday on Representative Waters, saying she may have violated House rules addressing conflicts of interest. Waters is being investigated for allegedly intervening on behalf of a minority-owned bank, OneUnited, in which her husband owned stock and on whose board of directors he once served.

Waters was reportedly involved in setting up a meeting between Treasury Department officials and representatives of minority-owned banks, including OneUnited. The bank subsequently received a $12 million bailout, though Treasury officials say they did not know of the bank’s connection to Waters’s husband, Sidney Williams.

In a statement issued Monday, Waters denied that she had violated House ethics rules, and said she will respond to the charges in a public hearing.

“Starting with the Office of Congressional Ethics report released [Monday], 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.

The fact that both members are black could add to Democrats' challenges. Any perception that Waters and Rangel faced unfair scrutiny compared with white members of Congress could dampen African-American enthusiasm for voting in November.

Republicans haven’t skipped a beat in trumpeting the Democrats’ woes. The conservative group American Crossroads put out a list Monday of House and Senate members who have received contributions from Rangel and Waters, or their political action committees, noting three who have returned money.

The National Republican Campaign Committee is using the ethics problems in particular to go after vulnerable Democrats, such as Rep. Chet Edwards (D) of Texas. Since 2000, Congressman Edwards has received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the two members’ PACs, though nothing in 2010, and has not returned any of it.

IN PICTURES: Ethically challenged Congressmen


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