Please note this post is written by freelance writer Imogen Reed.
Maxine Waters and the Lessons Washington Refuses to Learn
Most ordinary people would think that it’s unacceptable when one of our elected representatives behaves in a way that brings their conduct into question, particularly when it involves using their position to manipulate how tax dollars are spent in a way that could be to their own financial benefit. They would also expect that when such an accusation is made that an investigation of the matter would be expedited in a professional manner, and that the judicial process would be efficient and transparent. Unfortunately, this is Washington, so people are almost certainly destined to be disappointed.
Another twist in the tale
The House of Representatives ethics case involving Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), has taken yet another twist. Relations between Republican and Democrat representatives on the panel established by Ethics Committee, and between their staffers, became so bitter last year that they hired veteran defense lawyer Billy Martin Jnr to review their work to date. In something akin to asbestos surveys, his job was to identify anything toxic in terms of bias or partiality. He found nothing untoward, but still six members of the Ethics committee have elected to step down from participating in the investigation. Five of the six recusing themselves were Republicans, including the committee chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.). The other member was Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) the ranking Democrat on the panel. Six new members have been appointed in their place. Kenneth Gross, an ethics attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom was quoted in the Washington Post as describing the mass recusal as being “unprecedented” in a congressional investigation, but also commented that he believed “The committee wants to start with a clean slate,” and that “In view of the messy history of this case, it seems to be a smart move.”
Despite Ms. Waters continued demands for proceedings against her to be dismissed, it does appear that there is a real case to answer. The primary accusation against her is that at the height of the financial crisis in the latter part of 2008, she used her influence to gain financial support for a bank in which her husband Sidney Williams had previously been a director, and in which he still held shares. OneUnited, a minority bank primarily owned by African-Americans, and based in Boston Massachusetts, found itself with a huge exposure to losses following the Federal Government’s takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Ms. Waters has conceded that she made contact with the Treasury Secretary Henry.M.Paulson Jnr, with a plea for an urgent meeting with minority bankers regarding the difficulties they were experiencing as a result of the crisis. However, at the subsequent meeting the majority of bankers attending came from One United, and they took the opportunity to make a request for a $50 million bailout for their business. Although they did not get the $50 million they initially wanted, they receive $12 million from Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).
The Treasury Secretary is on record as saying that he was unaware of any connection between the Ms. Waters and OneUnited when the meeting took place, although there is said to be documentary evidence of contact between the congresswoman and the bank regarding such a meeting some weeks before it actually took place; and a senior congressional colleague has said that he warned her about a possible conflict of interest at the time. Ms. Waters has said that she was acting for an association of minority bankers, not in her own or her husband’s interests, and that neither of them has benefited financially. Her statement asserted that “I have not violated any House rules,” and that, “Therefore, I simply will not be forced to admit to something I did not do”; which is perhaps why she insisted on a full public ethics trial.
Politicking and Cynicism
It is to be hoped that Kenneth Gross is correct in his assessment, and that the change of personnel on the ethics panel will prove to be a “smart move” that allows progress to be made. However, it seems more likely that it will be an excuse for further delay whilst the new members get to grips with the details, and with the partisanship that now fractures our political system there is always the possibility of further hostilities breaking out amongst those who are supposed to be the guardians of congressional ethics. No doubt Ms. Waters, who is robust in attacking her political opponents, will be anticipating the prospect of the process collapsing in disarray once more. The alternative being that delays see it run into the November elections, with the hope that the numbers in the House will be favorable enough for her party to see the allegations sidelined.
It is not cynical to say that the Waters affair once again raises questions about the way Washington polices itself. They do not seem to appreciate how crazy such shenanigans appear to those looking in from outside the political bubble; and have not yet learned that if they are seen as being unable to competently manage their own affairs, then their voters are unlikely to feel confident that they are capable of doing a good job for America?
Sources: Washington Post July 19th 2011, Feb 17th 2012, New York Times Aug 2nd 2010, Huffington Post Feb 18th 2012, www.oneunited.com