Black leaders stand strong for Congresswoman Maxine Waters, champion of economic justice

Statements by Joseph Debro, president of Bay Area Black Builders and founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors; Danny Bakewell Sr., chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Black Press of America; and Len Canty of the Black Economic Council

Congresswoman Waters has no ethics violations

by Joseph Debro, President, Bay Area Black Builders

Because Maxine Waters and I are very good friends, I have gotten many calls regarding the story in the press about a possible ethics violation. The press is doing the work of its right wing owners. There was no ethics violation.

This story when run opposite the Charlie Rangel story makes good theater. It makes the Democrats look corrupt. There are more than eight ethics investigations being pushed against members of the Congressional Black Caucus. This is 20 percent of the Black Caucus. If there were justice in the application of the Office of Congressional Ethics, the number of white members being investigated would be 80. There is in fact only one such investigation.

Such investigations erode confidence and make our Black politicians even more reluctant to help Black people. I would like to set the record straight. This story is more than a year old. The New York Times asked Maxine how could a Black woman and her husband accumulate $500,000. The Times would be amazed at how much wealth there is in the Black community.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner or some member of his staff ratted Maxine Waters out. They are upset that Maxine criticizes them for an all-white staff and an all-white distribution of the $700 billion worth of TARP money. Treasury reported that Maxine had a conflict of interest when she advocated for Black banks. She advocated for the Black Bankers Association, who got almost no TARP money. One of its member banks is a bank in which her husband has a stake. The bank at issue eventually got $12 million out of $700 billion. She did not influence that decision.

As I have written before, when a Black politician advocates for any Black person or organization, it is seen as a conflict of interest. When a white person advocates for another white person, it is an identity of interest.

Her husband, Sidney Williams, was once on the board of directors of that bank. He bought $500,000 worth of stock in the bank. This information was in the public record. Congresswoman Waters reported this information in her public disclosure statement one year prior to the bankers’ meeting with Secretary Geithner. The Treasury Department did not do their due diligence or they would have known about this relationship.

The New York Times tried to make a story out of this matter several months ago. They wanted to know how her family got $500,000. Maxine, like many of us in California, sold a house that she had owned for many years. She and her husband bought real estate in California when it was cheap. They had the good fortune of selling it at the right time.

The Republicans dominate the ethics committee, which is composed of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The spineless Democrats allowed this matter to reach this level even though it was in no way a conflict. The Democrats on the committee, like the majority of the Democrats in Congress, allow the Republicans to rule, even though they are very few in numbers.

The Republicans on the ethics committee are using this matter at the same time that they are prosecuting Charlie Rangel for his tax violations. The problems that Charlie has are real. The Maxine matter is fiction. Maxine is a constant critic of the many insensitive white people who surround our president. Black people are not getting contracts or any other benefits that come from the legislation that the Congress enacts.

Maxine is the number three person on the Financial Services Committee. As such, she is in conference between the Senate and the House when very important legislative matters are negotiated. She is a very vocal advocate for the interests of Black people. She does try to help her husband and those close to her when she can. She is critiqued for doing both.

Racism not ethics

The case that is being made against Congresswoman Maxine Waters should have been dismissed long ago. It has nothing to do with conflict of interest. It is a case about race. The case was developed and promoted by the secretary of the treasury and his posse. The case is about a congresswoman who dared to question the very bandits who wrecked our economy and who were being hired to repair it.

As the No. 3 person on the on the Financial Services Committee, she is in conference between the Senate and the House when very important legislative matters are negotiated. She is a very vocal advocate for the interests of Black people.

Early in the president’s term, Maxine criticized the appointment of Geithner and later his associates. They were all white men. Geithner, in addition to all else, was a tax cheat. They were party to the problem that they were now being hired to fix. It was the foxes being hired to protect the hen house. None of them had a history of fairness and justice in racial matters. They deployed the spoils of the $700 billion TARP to their friends and former colleagues. They showed little interest in either the financial problems or the financial abilities of money practitioners in the Black community.

When Maxine pointed out the obvious, the racists at Treasury ignored her. When she would not go away, they filed trumped up charges of ethics violations. Being the deceptive operators that they are, they did not openly file such charges. They leaked manufactured information to the New York Times.

The Times, as was the case in the Iraq war, played the tool of the administration. It carried Geithner’s water. Rather than examining the congresswoman’s public disclosure statements and finding the facts, they ran with the inaccurately leaked information. Its reporters cared more about how Sydney Williams, Maxine’s husband, earned and saved $500,000 than they did about the ethics matter. These reporters were so inexperienced that they could not discover how or if the Waters home in northwest Washington, D.C., was financed. They actually asked Maxine who held the mortgage on her northwest Washington, D.C., home. The home had been paid for many years before.

The Black point of view can seldom find public expression except in the Black press. White people own and dominate both the print and electronic media. The talk shows seldom allow honest expressions of the Black point of view. Editors who fear for their jobs control Blacks who work for the white print media. This conservatively owned media would not question the conflict of interest inherent in the Geithner appointment.

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 transbay@netzero.com.

If it sounds like racism and acts like racism, then it probably is racism

by Danny J. Bakewell Sr., Chairman, NNPA

This is America, but you wouldn’t think so in light of recent events wherein two high profile, long serving African American congressman have come under attack. They are being dragged through the mud in a rush to judgment regarding alleged ethics violations. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., are the accused.

Rep. Rangel has been found guilty by the Office of Congressional Ethics of violating ethics rules and will face trial within the next couple of months. He has been under investigation since 2008 due to allegedly using his House position for financial benefit. Rep. Waters is also under the microscope of the ethics committee for allegedly using her congressional authority in a meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on behalf of OneUnited bank, in which her husband owns $250,000 in stock.

It is important that our elected officials, those to whom we give our public trust, be ethically sound, but in this current spate of accusations, there is something fishy in the proverbial Denmark! As of 2010, there are presently 42 African American members in the 111th U.S. Congress – 41 in the House of Representatives (39 representatives and 2 non-voting delegates) and one in the Senate.

The fact is that African Americans represent only 10 percent of the Congress, and 19 percent (eight) are under investigation! This raises the question as to whether or not Black lawmakers face more scrutiny over allegations of wrongdoing than their White counterparts. We conclude that if it sounds like racism and acts like racism, then it probably is racism! In America, we need to presume innocence until proven guilty, and we need not be led to judgment.

Congressman Rangel and Congressman Waters are valuable members of the African American community who have fought valiantly for our community. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), therefore, urges you to stand behind them. We want them to know that we are there for them; that all 200-plus NNPA publishers throughout America stand solidly behind them and urge them to continue on the course and stay strong. Black publishers are on the way with pen in hand!

History has shown that Black people make no progress in America without a struggle for what is right and good for the Black community. Many people want to call this situation something other than what it is, but it is racism at the core. It is daunting but not surprising that this is the case, but Rep. Rangel and Rep. Waters are far too valuable to our community to give up without a fight!

Danny J. Bakewell chairs the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the Black Press of America, comprising nearly 200 Black newspapers, www.BlackPressUSA.com.

Artificial and unfair ethics approach regarding Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Open Letter to President Obama and Speaker Pelosi

by Len Canty, Chairman, Black Economic Council

The Black Economic Council and our nation’s 40 million Blacks have for too long stayed on the sidelines regarding ethics bashing by both parties. The party in power, particularly near election time, is often unfairly attacked for minor so-called ethical violations that are routine among corporate America and among the opposition party.

On Aug. 1, the Wall Street Journal announced that Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke and other members of the Federal Reserve had made an estimated $8 million from the stock market in ‘09 as a result of policies heavily promoted by the Federal Reserve and Treasury. ((Elizabeth Duke increased her assets by $4.7 million, Chairman Bernanke by $600,000, Dan Tarullo by $2.1 million and Kevin Walsh by $1 million. No one called for an investigation and rightfully so. The Federal Reserve had higher interests: the preserving of our nation’s economy.))

Similarly, Congresswoman Maxine Waters had a much higher interest than the small ($500 million in assets) Boston-based Black-owned bank, OneUnited, in which her husband was a long-time investor. As the Federal Reserve can demonstrate and as Chairman Ben Bernanke himself can recite, Black banks are an endangered species. Their total assets are approximately $5 billion.

Citigroup, which received $45 billion in TARP subsidies to stay alive despite the predatory lending practices that got it in trouble, has assets almost 500 times greater than OneUnited bank. Furthermore, unlike the $12 million in TARP funds to OneUnited, Citi received more than 3,000 times more assistance. Yet Citigroup, unlike OneUnited, helped create the financial crisis.

Further, Goldman Sachs, which the SEC let escape effective scrutiny, deprived millions of working Americans of their homes and yet received directly or indirectly, including through AIG subsidies, more than $40 billion to stay alive.

Equally disturbing regarding the selective nature of the so-called ethics violation is that former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson consistently collaborated with his former colleagues at Goldman Sachs in order to ensure the Goldman Sachs’ “too-big-to-fail” safety net. Similarly, former Secretary Rubin was an effective lobbyist for Citigroup in creating its safety net.

Since Congresswoman Waters divulged her interest in this tiny Boston-based Black-owned bank, it appears that this is more of a political witch-hunt that singles out advocacy for the poor as a special interest and allows advocacy for the powerful, such as Goldman Sachs, to remain unpunished and generally unexamined. This Black-owned bank has never received the kinds of protections and favors it should rightly receive given its unique service to unbanked and underbanked Black Americans.

Since Congresswoman Waters divulged her interest in this tiny Boston-based Black-owned bank, it appears that this is more of a political witch-hunt that singles out advocacy for the poor as a special interest and allows advocacy for the powerful, such as Goldman Sachs, to remain unpunished and generally unexamined.

World War II analogy

During the heat of battle, soldiers who should receive a Congressional Medal of Honor are sometimes incorrectly charged with conduct leading to dishonorable discharges. No Blacks received Congressional Medals of Honor for their World War II heroism, but thousands were forced out of the service for their unwillingness to accept a segregated military that offered better treatment for Nazi war prisoners than Black soldiers.

This analogy is appropriate as to Congresswoman Maxine Waters. She has done nothing wrong and should, in fact, except for the partisan environment, be a hero to Congress, Main Street and the present administration.

Congresswoman Waters has raised what the president and the speaker have not dared to raise: that racism still exists even in the heart of federal government. See the Dodd-Frank Bank Reform bill and Waters’ legislation on minority and women diversity offices and the partisan Republican attack on these offices. She has sought to ensure that minorities are at the table for the distribution of almost $2 trillion in direct federal aid from the economic stimulus and bank bailout, as well as many trillions of dollars more for indirect subsidies such as zero borrowing costs for banks.

It is said in many parts of America that there is one standard for Republicans, a somewhat higher standard for Democrats and a much higher standard for Black Democrats. This appears to be the case for Maxine Waters.

With this in mind, before condemning Congresswoman Waters, we request that the Federal Reserve provide a comprehensive report on the state of Black financial institutions over the last five years relative to the fate of the five largest financial institutions receiving federal bailouts, including Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

Before condemning Congresswoman Waters, we request that the Federal Reserve provide a comprehensive report on the state of Black financial institutions over the last five years relative to the fate of the five largest financial institutions receiving federal bailouts, including Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

We think you will discover that her husband’s mistake was not an ethical one but a financial misjudgment that harmed no one but himself. That is, the profit margins for Black banks are far lower than for mainstream banks. Therefore any investor primarily interested in profit would never invest in a Black bank. Their failure rates have rapidly increased and any wise investor, if financial remuneration was her objective, would know better than to invest in a Black bank as opposed to Goldman Sachs.

Public trial in D.C.

We commend Maxine Waters for refusing to plead guilty to a bogus partisan charge and to be willing to face a trial before the House. We urge the ethics panel, however, to ensure that this public trial be held in the largest indoor public forum available in D.C. in order that not just the Black community but all communities have an opportunity to demonstrate their support for a longtime advocate for the most underserved and unbanked on Main Street.

It is also our expectation that the Office of Congressional Ethics will call former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson to discuss in detail his virtually daily contacts with Goldman Sachs and former Secretary Robert Rubin for his efforts on behalf of Citigroup. Both should be asked about their efforts to assist Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and other banks “too big to fail.”

President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, do your duty. Stand tall behind a congresswoman who fights for justice and battles unflinchingly against unfairness and inequality, no matter how powerful her foes may be.

Len Canty is chairman of the Black Economic Council. Engage the BEC by following them on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.