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Inappropriate speculation

9/29/2009, 7:55 a.m.
“Man, where are we going to get the truth if the Banner shuts down?”

Inappropriate speculation

Maxine Waters has been the representative to the U.S. Congress from her district in Los Angeles since 1991. She has been a dynamic and effective liberal politician. Over the years, she has undoubtedly made as many enemies as friends.

Waters’ hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, reported recently that an allegation of misconduct has been filed against her. It must be noted that anyone can file a complaint, which is then reviewed for credibility by the Office of Congressional Ethics before it is forwarded to the House Ethics Committee for action.

The Ethics Committee acknowledged that Waters’ conduct was under scrutiny, but they did not divulge the nature of the alleged offense. The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe both concluded that the offense involved Waters’ intervention to arrange a 2008 meeting with then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Robert Cooper, then-chairman-elect of the National Bankers Association (NBA), a trade organization of minority banks.

When Secretary Paulson became concerned with banks that were “too big to fail,” Cooper was worried that smaller banks that were also adversely affected by the national banking crisis might be ignored. He sought the assistance of Waters, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, to arrange a meeting with Paulson.

As a result of the meeting, it was established that smaller banks could be part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) if they could meet the program’s qualifications. Fourteen of the NBA’s 50 member banks were able to receive $326,597,000 of TARP funds. It should also be noted that several of the NBA banks are based in Waters’ district.

When the matter first arose this spring, overeager journalists believed that they had uncovered a major ethics violation. Cooper is also senior counsel of OneUnited Bank, where Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, had once served as a director. Also, Waters and her husband own stock in the bank.

According to Waters, she informed the Treasury Department of her financial interest in OneUnited Bank. Should she then be disqualified from arranging for all minority banks to become eligible for TARP funds? Or should every other minority bank be considered except for OneUnited because her family owns stock in it?

The fact is that every one of the 14 banks that received funds had to meet qualifications established by Congress and their regulatory agencies. No standards were modified or overlooked because of political connections. Since the receipt of TARP funds was based on objective criteria, there should be no reasonable assertion of an ethics violation, whether or not Waters made a full disclosure of her connection to OneUnited Bank.

Developing minority businesses and providing bank credit is an important objective in the black community. Those who step forward to help in this worthy cause should not have their character impugned. And the press should not seize an opportunity to cast a negative light on OneUnited Bank when there is no reason to believe that the bank was involved in inappropriate practices. In fact, it is conjecture at this time that the Waters inquiry even involves OneUnited Bank.

Since Waters is a Los Angeles resident and elected official, it is appropriate for the Los Angeles Times to report that she was under the scrutiny of the Ethics Committee. However, speculation about the involvement of OneUnited Bank does not give the story legs to travel east. If the Boston Globe wants to speculate, since they covered the story last spring, they know that the bank is innocent of impropriety. The Globe should speculate on that.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bay State Banner Publisher and Editor Melvin B. Miller is a director of OneUnited Bank.