It’s been a busy season for the House ethics committee, and not such a good year for Democrats on the accountability front. Rep. Charles Rangel, former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has been hit with 13 counts of ethics violations, and now California Democrat Maxine Waters faces a trial likely to be held in the fall over three alleged violations. The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct outlined the charges in a 10-page statement made public on Monday [PDF].
Waters is being accused of helping OneUnited, a bank in which her husband owned shares worth $175,000 at the time, to obtain federal bailout money in 2008. The statement says Waters arranged a meeting between the National Bankers Association (NBA), a trade group that represents minority-owned banks, and the Treasury Department, and that a representative of OneUnited was the only member of the National Bankers Association to attend the meeting.
Waters denies the allegations, and in July she petitioned for them to be dismissed [PDF]. She reportedly says that the meeting between the NBA and the Treasury was not on behalf of OneUnited, but the entire NBA.
Waters is also accused of violating a rule that requires lawmakers to act in a way that “[reflects] credibly on the House.” Waters allegedly violated this rule and one other by allowing Mikael Moore, her chief of staff and grandson, to continue to help OneUnited even though her husband had a stake in the company. It was an investment that, the committee’s statement says, he would have lost if the bank had not received the bailout funds.
The third count alleges that Waters participated in “the dispensing of special favors or privileges to OneUnited” in return for the “preservation” of her husband’s shares—behavior, the statement says, that could interfere with her job as a congresswoman.
Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate in 2006 by promising to stamp out cronyism and corruption in Congress, which they linked to Republicans. Thanks to Republicans like lobbyist Jack Abramoff and GOP lawmakers who accepted money from him and others, Democrats successfully positioned themselves as the more trustworthy and ethical party in that election—74 percent of voters said “corruption and scandals in government” was an issue very or extremely important to them.
Voters polled this summer are split over whether they think most members of Congress are corrupt (42 percent say yes and 37 percent say no), but the latest scandal likely won’t help push the numbers in favor of Congress. And four years and a Rangel and a Waters scandal later, the question is whether the Democrats' promise is going the way of a forgotten campaign slogan. With the fall elections rapidly approaching, the Democrats may now be on the other side of the issue.