Now that Rep. Barney Frank, the 16-term Democrat from Massachusetts, has announced his plans to retire at the end of next year, Rep. Maxine Waters’ record is getting a closer look, and the picture is anything but clear.
The fiery Democrat from South Central Los Angeles has her sights set on moving into the top-ranking position on the powerful Financial Services Committee Mr. Frank’s departure leaves open. But Mrs. Waters has yet to clear her name from conflict-of-interest allegations stemming from her role on the panel that regulates the banking industry.
The two-year probe became mired in allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and partisan maneuvering, forcing the House Ethics Committee to delay Mrs. Waters’ public trial a year ago and hire a special prosecutor to sort it all out when more sordid details leaked out earlier this year.
Mrs. Waters has aggressively fought the charges — allegations that she improperly intervened on behalf of a minority-owned bank in which her husband owned stock — and is chomping at the bit to get the case resolved.
The desire to clear her name is undoubtedly even stronger now that she is vying to replace Mr. Frank in the top spot on the Financial Services Committee.
But there are no signs the case is is wrapping up any time soon. A review by the Washington Times of Ethics Committee expenditures since the special prosecutor was hired in July show no payments to the counsel, Billy Martin, or his firm, Dorsey & Whitney, as of the end of October.
The firm could be slow to bill the panel or the House slow to process its payments. Either way, the lack of reported expenses for Mr. Martin’s work is notable considering the Jan. 2 deadline for completing his work, which is clearly stated in his contract, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Times.
Still, the Jan. 2 deadline may not be set in stone, despite the language in the contract. Unlike normal law enforcement agencies, the Ethics Committee has wide latitude in conducting its business of policing lawmakers’ activity, and could simply vote to renew the contract during a new session of Congress next year.
Doing so may frustrate Mrs. Waters, but watchdogs say unraveling the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, as well as the original accusations against Mrs. Waters, is a complicated matter, and it’s critical Mr. Martin be given ample time to pursue the matter.
“I think it’s rough on her, but I think it’s better to get a good result and the right result,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
House Democrats won’t name a replacement for Mr. Franks on the Financial Services Committee until early 2013 so it’s critical that Mr. Martin conclude his investigation and announce his findings some time in 2012, and the sooner the better, Ms. Sloan said.
“She does deserve to have it resolved so her colleagues can make a reasoned decision on whether she would be a good chair or ranking member,” Ms. Sloan added.
Mrs. Waters’ office and the Ethics Committee declined to comment on the matter.