A year and a half into the Obama administration, we finally have a bit of good news on the job front: employment among investigators looking into misconduct among Democratic members of Congress is on the rise. First we had reports of Charles Rangel’s questionable dealings, now allegations that Maxine Waters misused her official clout have come to light. What’s bad news for Democrats is good news for America. The more time that Congress spends investigating corruption in its ranks, the less time it will have to develop more neo-socialist programs.
In 2006, Nancy Pelosi famously vowed to “drain the swamp” when it came to corruption in Congress. As committed to environmental protection as the Speaker is, perhaps she realized that actually doing so would constitute a violation of federal wetland protection policies, so the swamp has grown in size under her leadership and corrupt congressmen and women aren’t any closer to being placed on the endangered species list. Maxine Waters stands accused of using her influence to help out a troubled bank in which her husband had a significant financial interest. According to the report filed by the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics: “There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Waters may have violated House Rule 23, Clause 3 and House precedent regarding conflict of interest.”
The charges stem from a call that Waters made in late 2008 to then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson after the housing bubble collapsed. The California congresswoman admits that she made the call, setting up a meeting between Paulson and officials representing OneUnited Bank. The minority-owned, Massachusetts-based financial institution had invested heavily in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and, like many other banks, took a painful hit when those two corporations went bust. OneUnited would later receive $12 million in TARP funds and the bank remained solvent thereafter.
The conflict of interest charges arise from the fact that Waters’ husband owned $250,000 worth of stock in OneUnited at the time that the congresswoman made the call to Paulson, after officials from OneUnited turned to her for help. Waters husband, Sidney Williams, also had been a member of OneUnited’s board of directors, although he did not hold that position when the call was placed. While Waters and Williams’ $250,000 investment represented less than ten per cent of the couple’s net worth at the time according to financial disclosure documents that Waters filed, it’s reasonable to assume that even an enlightened liberal elitist would be a little worried about protecting a six figure investment during an economic meltdown. So Maxine Waters did what any concerned citizen might do when worried about an investment gone wrong: she put in a call to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America.
Waters, the ranking African-American on the House Financial Services Committee, sees nothing unreasonable or unethical in her actions. “[T]he suggestion that I could gain personally from one phone call made to assist the National Bankers Association in getting a meeting with the Treasury Department is not credible,” Waters said. “Even the OCE acknowledges that the meeting resulted in no action. Although it leveled the accusation, the OCE also failed to show that I received any benefit or engaged in any ‘improper exercise of official influence.’”
Waters’ attempt to cloak her actions beneath the umbrella of the National Bankers Association, when the OCE makes it clear that the call was placed in response to OneUnited’s plight, is another example of the entirely typical, disingenuous rhetorical sleight-of-hand that we have come to expect from our elected representatives. Between 2008 and 2009, one hundred and sixty five banks failed in the United States. Does congresswoman Waters actually expect us to believe that she called Paulson on behalf of an industry that was on life support at the time? If memory serves, everyone in America was pretty much focused on that issue at the time. Or might this particular phone call have been about a particular bank – one that had good reason to occupy a place particularly near and dear to her heart?
According to the OCE report, Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank advised Waters to “stay out” of the OneUnited affair, presumably because Frank understood the ethical implications of what she had done. But, at that point it was too late. Waters-gate is not a case of theoretical influence peddling for personal gain like the Cheney-Haliburton connection that liberals raised ad nauseum about every other week during the Bush years. Maxine Waters clearly had a lot of reasons – at least $250,000 of them – to keep OneUnited solvent. House rules are very clear about using the power of one’s office for personal gain, or even in a situation that might appear to involve personal gain.
Waters has chosen to go to trial rather than admitting any guilt by entering a plea agreement. That’s her right. The House’s duty is clear: in a nation that cherishes the rule of law, it has an obligation to judge Waters according to their own rules, regardless of the congresswoman’s position, power or race. That last bit, however, represents Waters best hope of mounting an effective defense for many liberals, including the always unintentionally-entertaining Reverend Al Sharpton, whose rhetorical deck is fully stacked with race cards. “If you begin to see a pattern of people being called on– to being investigated, allegations that end up [to be] nothing,” Sharpton said. “One would be very naive not to say ‘well, wait a minute, why should we rush to judgment?’ in particular when we have Charlie Rangel, who has done so much for his district and the country and Maxine Waters.”
Given his sorry performance during the phony Duke lacrosse rape case, Al Sharpton ought to be an expert on “rushing to judgment” by now, but it’s clear that he’s still oblivious to the fact that justice should be color-blind. The OCE spent months investing Rangel and Waters before making their recommendations. Both have been given the opportunity to defend themselves before a jury of their peers. If there’s a pattern here, it’s not the one that Sharpton suggests. Liberal Democrats like Waters haven’t been vilified because of the color of their skin, but because of their arrogant disregard for the rules they expect everyone to follow but them.