by Joseph Debro
Porter Goss, co-chair of the Office of Congressional Ethics, chaired the Intelligence Committee when he was a member of Congress. As chair, he blocked Ms. Water’s attempt to investigate suspected money laundering at Citibank and other major lending institutions. He also blocked her attempt to prevent the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.
He is now co-chair of the agency that is trying to convict the congresswoman of an ethics violation. His status as a non-member of Congress is in question. Constitutional scholars question whether a non-member may stand in judgment of members.
This agency, which may be unconstitutional, was embarrassed by its investigation of eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus, while it investigated one White member. For now it has deferred all but two such investigations. One of the two remaining Star Chamber actions is the investigation of Maxine Waters.
Congresswoman Waters is a woman who has spent her whole political life trying to advance the cause of economic justice in the Black and Brown communities in this country. Methinks they have picked on the wrong Marine.
Maxine Waters and her husband, Sidney Williams, live the life of Spartans. They live in a two-bedroom house in Watts, California. It is the smallest house I have been in since I visited Japan. It is smaller than 600 square feet.
Congresswoman Waters is a woman who has spent her whole political life trying to advance the cause of economic justice in the Black and Brown communities in this country.
They bought real estate in California during the early ‘70s. As prices spiraled in the late ‘90s, they sold most of it. The real estate they now own is free and clear. Their children and grandchildren are well-educated adults. Maxine’s pension benefits from the California State Assembly and her Congressional pension are more than enough for their needs. Why would they try to enrich themselves in a public process?
The racially insensitive White people who surround the president do not serve him well. Mr. Obama has little experience in the Black world in which the Black Caucus and their constituents live. His background has been one of privilege. He has never drunk from a Whites-only fountain nor ridden in the back of the bus. Because he was an exceptional student, he was treated as the exceptional Black. He was the one Black that allowed White people to validate their lack of prejudice by including him.
His advisers have an agenda different from that of economic justice for all. They do not understand those who are not driven by greed. This is a teachable moment. Without talking about race or greed, Maxine may be able to teach the country about justice and fairness for all of its citizens. Greed is not good.
The Congressional Black Caucus has an opportunity to send the president and the country a message. That message is that some Black people are motivated by greed, just as some White people are. Some Black politicians are motivated by greed, just as some White politicians are. Most Black politicians are motivated by a deep and unyielding push for economic justice for all.
The Congressional Black Caucus should invite Maxine Waters to give the keynote speech at its annual gala this September. She would attract more press than the president.
White people need to understand that there are no boundaries for Black representatives. Maxine, like other Congressional Black Caucus members, does not just represent her district. She represents all Black people in this country. Her demand for economic justice is not just for the voters in her district. It is for all of the poor people in this country – Black, Brown, Yellow, Red and White.
Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders, co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors, a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congresswoman Waters responds to pending ethics matter
by Congresswoman Maxine Waters
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., addressed the media on the morning of Aug. 13 during a press conference regarding the ethics matter pending before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Congresswoman Waters delivered an opening speech, her chief of staff presented some key facts and concerns, and she took questions from the media. The Congresswoman’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Good morning. Thank you all for being here today, especially on a Friday during recess.
The press and the public have now had an opportunity to read the Statement of Alleged Violation and have shown a lot of interest in the ethics matter that is now pending before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
I am indeed eager to be able to have an opportunity to present my case, and that is why I have requested that the Standards Committee schedule a hearing as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the committee has not yet specified a date for a hearing on this matter and, given the congressional schedule, it is possible that no hearing would be held for months, even after the November elections.
Such a delay is unacceptable, considering that the investigation has dragged out for almost one year. It does not provide due process, it prevents my constituents and the American public from getting answers, and it delays me from being able to respond to charges spelled out in the SAV.
I am pleased that the committee released the SAV and related documents earlier this week, as I had insisted after waving my right to have the SAV remain private until the adjudicatory hearing.
I have arranged this press conference to present my facts in the case and clear up ambiguities and misinformation. I recognize the transparency that I am providing may not eliminate an adjudicatory hearing. To reiterate, I am in fact anxious to share these facts with you and the public because I have not violated any House rules.
I fully disclosed all my financial information as required by House rules – and in fact went above and beyond what was required by repeatedly disclosing my and my husband’s financial interests during Financial Services Committee hearings.
Neither my staff nor I engaged in any improper behavior; we did not influence anyone, and we did not gain any benefit.
We are here today because I believe my actions and the allegations against me are not easily understood.
Today I want to be absolutely clear about one thing: This case is not just about me. This case is also about access. It’s about access for those who are not heard by decision makers, whether it’s having their questions answered or their concerns addressed.
In fact, my advocacy and assistance in providing access for the National Bankers Association is why we’re here today. The National Bankers Association consists of 103 minority banks, and I have worked with this association and the concerns of their banks for many years:
• I have spoken at their conventions on many occasions;
• I have participated in hearings about their issues; and
• I have worked with our federal agencies on their behalf, including the Treasury Department, FDIC, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
My telephone call to then-Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson during the worst economic crisis this nation faced in 80 years was to provide access to the National Bankers Association, which was concerned about the fact that Treasury had placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship. It was represented to me that many minority banks had over-leveraged their capital in Fannie and Freddie, and the association wished to know whether or not their members’ capital was lost or if the government was responsible for protecting the capital that they had invested in preferred stock.
They had attempted to get a meeting with the Treasury Department but had received no response. And so they sought me out to assist them in setting up a meeting.
The question, at this point, should not be why I called Secretary Paulson, but why I had to. The question, at this point, should be why a trade association representing over 100 minority banks could not get a meeting at the height of the crisis.
When I contacted the treasury secretary:
• I did not suggest any solution to the problem of the National Bankers Association;
• I did not ask for any favors for the National Bankers Association;
• I did not ask for a meeting for any individual bank, including OneUnited Bank;
• I did not suggest who would be participants in that meeting;
• I did not attend that meeting; and
• There was no such thing as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) at that time.
There has been a great deal of confusion over a conversation I had with Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank. The conversation I had with Chairman Frank was a conversation several weeks after this meeting had taken place and after the TARP program had been announced.
OneUnited Bank was now raising questions about assistance from TARP. Because my office’s assistance to the National Bankers Association was strictly to provide access for a discussion about the impact of the financial crisis on small and minority banks broadly, and because there was no TARP program at the time of the meeting, I did not wish to get involved with OneUnited Bank about any individual assistance or about the new TARP program.
Because my husband had once served on the board of OneUnited Bank and still held investments there, I felt they should seek assistance from Chairman Frank, a representative from the state where the bank was headquartered and someone with a record of commitment to the health of minority banks.
It’s also important to note that no government agency or their representatives have said that I requested any special assistance or compensation for anyone or any institution or that I influenced the TARP process in any way.
There has also been a question about whether or not I instructed my staff not to get involved with OneUnited Bank and their interest in accessing TARP funds. My staff had only been involved in understanding the impact of the financial crisis on small and minority banks broadly and assisting in setting up the meeting with the Treasury Department for, again, the National Bankers Association. I told my chief of staff that:
• I had informed Chairman Frank about OneUnited Bank’s interest;
• We were only concerned about small and minority banks broadly;
• Chairman Frank would evaluate OneUnited’s issue and make a decision on how to proceed; and
• Given the emails that the committee has offered as evidence, we communicated with each other clearly.
So it’s not just about us. It’s about all those who lack access.
And over the past year, I and the nine other Congressional Black Caucus members of the Financial Services Committee have been meeting with the National Bankers Association, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, the National Association of Minority Auto Dealers, the National Association of Securities Professionals and the National Bar Association, among others, discussing the plight of minority businesses, their lack of access to capital, and the lack of support from their government in banking, advertising and consulting contracts.
Access is key to understanding the scope of this case.
This case is not just about them. This case is also about fairness.
The fact that the investigative subcommittee ignored or disregarded key pieces of exculpatory evidence crucial to my case is extremely troubling. A truly robust investigatory process would have taken all the available evidence into consideration. I believe that if that had been done, we would not be here today.
Fairness is also key to understanding the scope of this case. This case is not just about that. This case is also about my constituents and the American people.
I have truly been touched by the outpouring of support from my constituents in Los Angeles and from friends in places like Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, New York, Illinois, Florida – even abroad.
I know the way that the American people view Congress. They hear the talk of partisanship, of power, of money, of influence. For congressional critics, it’s easy to see a report of an ethics case and completely wash your hands of it all.
But my constituents and supporters have seen the many inaccurate, accusatory portrayals of my work, and they know me better than that. And they’ve encouraged me to fight.
I admit there are some who do not believe in my philosophy or my methods. But no one should question my devotion to public service.
Therefore, I am asking us all to pause for a moment, set aside our cynicism and consider two things:
• the facts of the case; and
• my life’s work in trying to provide access to those who have been denied.
These two things will provide context for my constituents’ and your judgment. My constituents demand that I stand up for the values they elected me to represent.
In sum: No benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced: no case.
I thank you again for coming today. Now my chief of staff, Mikael Moore, will present to you some of the key facts in the case and address some of our concerns with the SAV.
After the presentation, I will be happy to take your questions on the SAV and answer them to the best of my ability.
I will ask you to keep your questions to the SAV and my experiences with the ethics investigation and process. I will not be entertaining questions about the supposed issue of race in this matter or recent media reports that have nothing to do with my case pending before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Contact Congresswoman Maxine Waters at 2344 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, phone (202) 225-2201, fax (202) 225-7854, website www.house.gov/waters. To see her chief of staff’s 50-page power point presentation of key facts and concerns, go to http://waters.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Waters_Presentation.pdf.