Surprise, surprise; the House Ethics Committee has cleared Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a distinguished member of Judicial Watch’s Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians list, for steering millions of federal bailout dollars to her husband’s failing bank.
The famously remiss committee, which is charged with investigating and punishing corrupt lawmakers, found that Waters committed no wrongdoing when she steered $12 million to a Massachusetts bank in which she and her board member husband held shares. The bank, OneUnited, subsequently got shut down by the government and taxpayers got stiffed for the millions. Judicial Watch investigated the scandal and obtained documents from the U.S. Treasury related to the controversial bailout.
Waters, a Democrat who represents some of Los Angeles’ poorest inner city neighborhoods, has denied any wrongdoing and says she allocated the money as part of her longtime work to promote opportunity for minority-owned businesses and lending in underserved communities. At least that’s what her hometown newspaper says. Keep in mind that the now-defunct bank was located thousands of miles away from the south Los Angeles neighborhood she represents in Congress.
The ethics committee evidently bought her story. It launched an investigation a few years ago and announced today that the veteran lawmaker is off the hook. That means she can regain her position as a senior member (or chairwoman if Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives) of the House Financial Services Committee. It will be as if nothing ever happened, though Waters’ chief of staff (her grandson) got a slap on the hand for violating House standards of conduct to help OneUnited.
Even more laughable than the ethic panel’s conclusion is how it was reached. The committee hired an “independent” legal advisor who found that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove violations by a clear and convincing standard. The independent probe was conducted by a high-profile D.C. criminal defense lawyer (Billy Martin) well known for representing professional athletes, including the Atlanta quarterback indicted for running a dogfighting ring.
Waters may have dodged a bullet in this case, but this is hardly the first scandal to rock her storied political career. She has been crowned among the nation’s most corrupt members of Congress by a reputable ethics watchdog for awarding federal contracts to businesses owned by or connected to members of her family, including her husband and children.
In the 1980s Waters accused the CIA of selling crack cocaine to blacks in her south central Los Angeles district to raise millions of dollars to support clandestine operations in Latin America, including a guerrilla army. During the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots she repeatedly excused the violent behavior that destroyed the areas she represents in the House. She dismissed the severe beating of a white truck driver by saying the anger in her district was righteous. She also excused looters who stole form stores by saying they were simply mothers capitalizing on an opportunity to take some milk, bread and shoes.
In the 1990s Waters convinced Cuba’s communist dictator to harbor cop-murdering Black Panther fugitive Joanne Chesimard, who is also known by her Black Panther name of Assata Shakur. In 1979 Chesimard killed a New Jersey State trooper and a jury convicted her of murder and sentenced her to life in prison. In a daring breakout with the help of fellow cult members, Chesimard escaped from prison and fled to Cuba. U.S. lawmakers insisted she be extradited but Waters always stood by her side, even likening her to civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
More recently, Waters threatened to nationalize the oil industry and she was embroiled in a fundraising scandal for skirting federal election rules with a shady gimmick that allows unlimited donations from certain contributors. Instead of raising most of her campaign funds from individuals or political action committees, Waters sells her endorsement to other politicians and political causes for as much as $45,000 a pop.
The notoriously remiss House Ethics Committee, known for allowing lawmakers to get away with all sorts of indiscretions, has finally reprimanded a corrupt member for illegally using her congressional staff as personal servants and forcing them to work on her political campaign.
Southern California Democrat Laura Richardson, a member of Judicial Watch’s 2011 “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” list, had it coming. For years she has been embroiled in a variety of scandals, including the foreclosure of three homes used to get cash to finance her political campaign and abusing her power to get one of the properties back. The bank had sold the foreclosed home to another party and literally snagged it because Richardson wanted it back.
Not surprisingly, the House Ethics Committee failed to punish her over the foreclosure scheme, but was forced to act in this case. That’s because a former staff member revealed that the congresswoman required her and other staffers to run personal errands—such as picking up her dry cleaning—and to work on her reelection campaign at taxpayer expense.
Richardson quickly played the race card, claiming that she was being targeted because she is black. She even tried to intimidate the House Ethics Committee, officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, by saying that she would explore whether it “has engaged in discriminatory conduct.”
Incredibly, the panel didn’t back down. This week an investigative subcommittee determined that Richardson improperly used House resources for personal and political campaign purposes, compelled congressional staff to work on her campaign and obstructed the committee’s investigation by altering or destroying evidence and through the “deliberate failure to produce documents.”
Furthermore, the three-term congresswoman “acted with utter disdain for the Committee’s process,” according to a scorching 21-page report posted on its website. “Through her actions, she demonstrated a callous disregard for her staff and the resources entrusted to her by the American people,” the report goes on. “Her disrespect for boundaries between the official and the political realms, as well as the boundaries that define the Committee’s jurisdiction, deserves a public reprimand.”
Ouch! The question now is; what will that so-called “reprimand” be for violating the standards of conduct? Rarely are members punished and when they are, it’s a joke. The ethics committee has for years come under fire for not properly investigating corrupt lawmakers or simply conducting sham probes that usually end in absolution. After all, the investigators are the friends and colleagues of the scrutinized subjects. Often they’re financial beneficiaries.
In Richardson’s case the biggest punishment will likely be embarrassment and the effect that the committee’s probe may have on her reelection. At the moment, she’s in an uncomfortably tight contest with another popular Democrat to keep her congressional seat. Richardson also faces a $10,000 fine. However, “she should be expelled,” according to Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who has tracked the congresswoman’s many transgressions over the years.