Black Lawmakers under Ethics Spotlight

Washington AFRO , News Report, Zenitha Prince Posted: Nov 09, 2009

November 8, 2009) - Are seven investigations too many to be a coincidence?

All seven of the full-scale ethics investigations currently underway in the U.S. House of Representatives are focused on African-American lawmakers—and it would be eight if the committee conducting the investigations hadn’t deferred to the Justice Department’s investigation involving Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

The disparity is beginning to raise some eyebrows.

“I don’t think they (Black lawmakers) are scared—they’re upset. They think [Congressional Black Caucus] members are being singled out,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the AFRO.

“I can’t say there is an agenda behind this – I just don’t know,” Cummings said. “But when you have 435 members of Congress and the only ones under full-scale investigations are CBC members, it makes you wonder.”

In late October, California Democrats Laura Richardson and Maxine Waters became the latest CBC members to fall under official ethical scrutiny.

The ethics committee—officially the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct—on Oct. 29 announced its decision to probe allegations that Richardson failed to report real estate and income in her financial disclosure forms, and received preferential treatment from a lender in the foreclosure/loan modification agreement for her Sacramento home.

Waters, who is the chamber’s chief deputy whip and member of the powerful Financial Services and Judiciary committees, has drawn more press attention. The ethics panel said it is reviewing a possible conflict of interest in her request that then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson meet with the National Banker’s Association. The trade organization represents minority-owned banks such as OneUnited Bank, in which Waters’ husband owned stock and previously served on the board of directors.

The congresswoman denounced the charges. In a March 13 statement, Waters said she had simply followed up on NBA’s request by asking Paulson to schedule a meeting.

“I did not attend the meeting,” she wrote, “and thus did not participate in the conversation. I am confident that as the investigation moves forward the panel will discover that there are no facts to support allegations that I have acted improperly.”

Lester Spence, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said caucus members may be targeted for ethics probes because their violations are less egregious and thus easier to prove.

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