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House ethics panel investigates Rep. Maxine Waters

The Los Angeles congresswoman faces scrutiny over her husband's ties to a bank that received federal bailout funds.

September 17, 2009|Richard Simon

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee is investigating Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who has come under scrutiny because of her husband's ties to a bank that received federal bailout funds.

The panel's chairwoman and ranking member announced the committee was extending by 45 days a determination on whether it would conduct a more thorough review of Waters' conduct, but they declined to say what was being investigated. Waters, one of Los Angeles' most enduring liberal politicians, also declined to comment.

Word of the investigation came as the committee announced that it was delaying an inquiry into whether Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) or his representatives tried to secure the Senate seat vacated by President Obama by promising to raise campaign cash for disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich. The panel cited an ongoing federal investigation in Chicago.

Both matters were referred to the committee, evenly divided between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, by the Office of Congressional Ethics, created by the House last year in response to criticism that lawmakers have been reluctant to vigorously investigate their own. The new office -- which can initiate reviews of alleged misconduct on its own or in response to allegations brought to its attention by the public -- refers matters to the committee if it determines they warrant further investigation.

Waters was in the spotlight earlier this year because Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank received $12 million in bailout funds, three months after the congresswoman, a senior member of the congressional committee that oversees banking, helped arrange a meeting between officials of the bank and other minority-owned financial institutions and Treasury Department representatives.

Waters' husband, Sidney Williams, served on the bank board until early last year and held at least $350,000 in investments in the bank last year, according to the congresswoman's most recent financial disclosure report.

Waters defended her efforts as in keeping with her longtime work to promote opportunity for minority-owned businesses and lending in underserved communities. She said that OneUnited received bailout funds based on the merits of its request, not political influence, and she said that she had disclosed her husband's ties to the bank.

In its announcement on Jackson, the ethics panel made public for the first time allegations that he used his congressional staff in Chicago and Washington to mount a "public campaign" for the open seat in possible violation of federal law and House rules.

The Justice Department asked the committee to hold off from pursuing a full-blown inquiry of Jackson until after Blagojevich's trial, scheduled for next year, saying it would "pose a significant risk of interfering with the pending criminal proceedings and ongoing investigation."

Blagojevich was indicted on federal corruption charges in April. Jackson's name first surfaced in December after Blagojevich's arrest, with the then-governor secretly recorded saying that an emissary from Jackson had offered to raise $1 million for Blagojevich's reelection campaign if he appointed Jackson to the Senate seat that eventually went to Roland W. Burris.

Jackson has denied any wrongdoing.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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