- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2010

A lobbyist known as one of California’s most successful power brokers while serving as a legislative leader in that state paid Rep. Maxine Waters’ husband $15,000 in consulting fees at a time she was co-sponsoring legislation that would help save the real-estate finance business of one of the lobbyist’s best-paying clients, records show.

Ms. Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, a former pro football player and ambassador to the Bahamas, was a paid consultant on a Los Angeles lobbying project for Mike Roos, who served with Ms. Waters in the California State Assembly. During Mr. Roos’ 14-year tenure, he held the posts of majority floor leader and speaker pro tempore.

In 2007, Mr. Roos expanded his successful California lobbying business to Washington, D.C., after Democrats took control of the House and Ms. Waters became chairman of the House Financial Services housing and community opportunity subcommittee, where she played a key role in housing legislation.

Mr. Roos sought her assistance for a California client that specialized in homeownership and asset development.

According to federal lobbying records, Mr. Roos was paid $430,000 by the Nehemiah Corp. of America, a Sacramento, Calif.-based nonprofit that acted as a middleman to help sellers finance down payments for homebuyers to qualify for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). He lobbied members of Congress and federal agencies on behalf of the firm.

One of those lobbied was Ms. Waters, a California Democrat and key Nehemiah ally, who held a hearing on down-payment assistance in June 2007 and persuaded federal housing officials to delay for 30 days efforts to impose a ban on the program. She also co-sponsored legislation in 2008 and 2009 that would have kept Nehemiah’s assistance program viable.

Nehemiah was the largest middleman on such deals nationwide, with more than a third of the business, passing on $1.5 billion from sellers to more than 320,000 homebuyers in a decade.

Ms. Waters denied any connection between Mr. Roos’ payment to her husband and her help with Mr. Roos’ client, Nehemiah. She said the program allowed homeownership to hundreds of thousands of low- and moderate-income families who needed assistance with the down payments.

The Internal Revenue Service ruled in 2006 that seller-funded down-payment assistance programs were “scams,” and federal housing officials tried for several years to end what they considered a dangerous practice of allowing sellers to make the required 3 percent down payments for homebuyers through a nonprofit middleman such as Nehemiah.

Three times, Ms. Waters co-sponsored legislation that Nehemiah and similar groups wanted to either stop the proposed federal ban or overturn it once it became law. The ban went into effect in October 2008, but not before Nehemiah had financed an additional $600 million in down payments for 100,000 homeowners in the 17 months after the ban was proposed.

In the first quarter of 2009, while Ms. Waters was helping Mr. Roos, her friend of 30 years, by co-sponsoring one final effort to overturn the federal ban on middlemen, her husband was on the Roos payroll as a consultant. The $15,000 payment, according to lobbying reports filed with the city of Los Angeles, was for Mr. Williams’ help in trying to get a Los Angeles hotel off a designated list of residential hotels that could not be turned easily into upscale lofts.

The federal ban on middlemen remains in effect.

Ms. Waters’ legislative duties and her husband’s business dealings have intersected before. She is fighting charges brought by the House ethics committee that she improperly sought federal help for a bank in which her husband was a former board member and a current stockholder. She has denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to fight the charges in a public trialset to begin later this month.

In a statement in response to questions from The Washington Times on her involvement with Nehemiah, she said her work on programs aimed at increasing homeownership had been “consistent throughout my career.”

She said that as head of the House Financial Services housing and community opportunity subcommittee, she was approached in 2007 by advocates both for and against seller-funded down-payment assistance programs to hold a hearing on the issue — before Nehemiah hired Mr. Roos.

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