Ethics Committee Opens Investigations Into Waters, Richardson

Posted October 29, 2009 at 4:12pm

Updated: 6:07 p.m.

The House ethics committee voted Thursday to open formal investigations into unrelated allegations involving Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Laura Richardson (D-Calif.). In separate statements, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said it would open investigative subcommittees into each lawmaker.

The Richardson probe will focus on the lawmaker’s Sacramento, Calif., home, which was foreclosed upon, sold and then subsequently returned to the House lawmaker in 2008.

“The investigative subcommittee shall have jurisdiction to determine whether Representative Laura Richardson violated House Rules, the Code of Official Conduct or the Ethics in Government Act by failing to disclose certain real property, income and liabilities on her finance disclosure forms (and amendments thereto) and whether Representative Richardson received an impermissible ‘gift’ or received preferential treatment from her lender relating to the foreclosure, rescission of the foreclosure sale or loan modification agreement for or relating to her property in Sacramento, California,— the committee stated.

Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) will chair the subcommittee and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) will be the ranking member. Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) will also serve on the panel.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Richardson denied any wrongdoing.

“Like 4.3 million Americans in the last year who faced financial problems because of a personal crisis like a divorce, death in the family, unexpected job and living changes and an erroneous property sale, all of which I have experienced in the span of slightly over a year, I have worked to resolve a personal financial situation,— Richardson said.

“But unlike other Americans, I have been subjected to premature judgments, speculation and baseless distractions that will finally be addressed in a fair, unbiased, bipartisan evaluation of the facts,— Richardson added.

The Waters investigation will focus on the lawmaker’s relationship to OneUnited Bank, where her husband, Sidney Williams, had served on the board and owned a minimum of $500,000 in stock in 2007.

A series of news reports earlier this year questioned the California lawmaker’s role in the decision to provide $12 million in federal bailout funds to the company.

“[T]he investigative subcommittee shall have jurisdiction to determine whether Representative Maxine Waters violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule or regulation or other standard of conduct applicable to her conduct in the performance of her duties in the discharge or her responsibilities, with respect to Representative Waters’ alleged communications and activities with, or on behalf of, the National Bankers Association or OneUnited Bank, a bank in which Representatives Waters’ husband owned stock and previously served on the board of directors, and the benefit, if any Representative Waters or her husband received as a result.—

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) will chair the subcommittee and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) will served as ranking member. Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo. )and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) will also serve on the subcommittee.

Although the ethics committee received referral for investigations on both lawmakers from the Office of Congressional Ethics — and faced a deadline next week to determine whether to probe either matter — the panel said it initiated the queries on its own initiative.

The decision to open investigative subcommittees will delay the release of reports issued by the OCE for a one-year period.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is tasked with reviewing potential rules violations and recommending investigations to the ethics committee.

The OCE has referred nine investigations to the House ethics committee since its inception. The committee has announced investigations into eight of those Members.

The ethics panel launched an investigative subcommittee in June to review five Congressional Black Caucus members who accepted privately sponsored travel to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

That probe includes Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who faces an unrelated ethics committee inquiry into his personal finances and fundraising, as well as Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Donald Payne (D-N.J.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands).

The subcommittee is examining whether those trips, sponsored by the Carib News Foundation, violated House gift rules.

In addition, the ethics panel acknowledged in mid-September it had deferred an investigation into Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill) ties to impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, citing an ongoing Justice Department investigation.

Blagojevich is accused by federal investigators of choreographing a pay-to-play scheme to auction an open Illinois Senate seat in late 2008.