LA Congresswoman faces controversy over bank meeting

KPCC's Washington, D.C. correspondent Kitty Felde talks about the controversy involving Rep. Maxine Waters and OneUnited Bank, a bank that Waters had ties to. Kitty also talks about efforts by Southern California officials to secure stimulus money.

Steve Julian: KPCC recently became the first public radio station in the country to set up its own Washington, D.C. bureau, and Kitty Felde is our new Washington correspondent. She'll be taking over the weekly Monday morning conversation about the California congressional delegation. Kitty, nice talking to you!

Felde: Hey, nice to talk to you too, Steve.

Julian: I want to ask you first about Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles. She recently denied setting up a meeting for the group OneUnited with someone from Treasury about getting TARP money – a story reported in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Waters claims to have done nothing wrong – what's your perspective on this?

Kitty Felde: Well, here's what happened. Apparently there was a meeting set up by Congresswoman Waters last year with Treasury officials for a trade association that represents various minority banks.

Now these are mostly black-owned banks, and they wanted their share of the multi-billion dollar TARP money, the Troubled Assets Relief Program money. Now, what Waters didn't say – and this is according to former Treasury officials – was that she had owned at least a quarter of a million dollars in stock in one of those banks, one called OneUnited, and that her husband at one time had served on the bank's board.

The congresswoman says that she put all that information, of course, in the "official filings" that members of Congress have to make, but apparently she didn't tell that directly to Treasury. Well at that meeting, apparently OneUnited asked for an outrageous– what Treasury officials described, or at least one unnamed Treasury official described as a heck of a lot of money, and said that they don't generally do that then.

And the fact that there was some kind of financial connection to the congresswoman made it appear that, you know, this was a member of Congress using influence for personal gain. Now whether that is in fact what happened or not, you know, it's very fuzzy at this point.

In fact, in her response, which she didn't send out until after midnight, I believe it was, Thursday night, Congresswoman Waters said that, you know, you know, they're overestimating how powerful she really was, since this happened during the Bush administration.

She said, and I quote her, "Although my supporters and detractors often refer to me as influential, the truth is that I had no influence on what Bush administration officials in the Treasury Department or other departments did."

So again, is this a case of a congresswoman advocating on behalf of minority banks, or just using political influence for personal gain? And that remains to be seen.

Julian: Kitty, last week, there was a parade of local officials in Washington – various mayors and business leaders. And next week, it's another batch of officials and then it's either the supervisors or state lawmakers. They all want federal money – do they stand to get it?

Felde: They certainly do, because that's the point of all of this stimulus money, is to try to send it directly to places where projects can get started. As a matter of fact, Mayor Villaraigosa was in town, and talked about shovel-ready projects, and that's– the cities and the states that have projects that ready to go and hopefully have some matching money on the local end have a, I would say, probably a much better shot at getting that money.

In California, which has traditionally not gotten their share, its share of federal money, it's really out front and center this time around trying to get it. Last week, as you said, there were almost 250 Californians knocking on congressional doors for various projects, and then this week, it's the National League of Cities in town, and the vice president of that organization is the mayor of Riverside, Ron Loveridge. So again, they are here to talk about how to get their share of the federal stimulus package.

Julian: And one Californian, Kitty, became an official part of the Obama administration on Friday.

Vice President Joe Biden: And that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties.
Hilda Solis: And that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties.
Biden: Of the office upon which I am about to enter.
Solis: Upon which the office that I am about to enter.
Biden: So help me God.
Solis: So help me God.
Biden: God love you. Congratulations. [crowd cheers]

Felde: Yes. It was former congresswoman from California Hilda Solis, now the new labor secretary, finally sworn in. Her swearing in was delayed because there were a number of questions about her husband's tax situation.

Those were resolved to the satisfaction of those making the votes, and she is now the labor secretary. She immediately left Washington, D.C. She is in California this week. As a matter of fact, this afternoon she will be meeting with Governor Schwarzenegger to talk about some workplace regulations.

Julian: Well Kitty, thanks very much.

Felde: You're welcome, Steve.

Julian: Kitty Felde is KPCC's Washington, D.C. correspondent.