Donald Lambro

According to the 79-page report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, Waters initially had doubts about the ethical propriety of her action and went to House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Frank to get his advice.

"Waters told (Frank) that she was in a predicament because her husband had been involved in the bank, but 'OneUnited people' were coming to her for help," the report said. The Massachusetts Democrat told her to "Stay out of it," he told investigators.

Waters insists she did nothing wrong by using her influence to set up the meeting with Treasury officials to obtain funding from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) that eventually handed OneUnited a check for $12.1 million.

But clearly she used her influence to come to the aid of a bank in which she and her husband have a big financial stake -- an act that the House's conflict of interest rule clearly forbids.

Rangel's many ethical transgressions are bad enough and led the ethics committee to conclude that he broke the "public trust." He, too, said he hadn't done anything improper, and that he had amended House financial disclosure reports he neglected to fill out correctly, paid overdue taxes, and said other members had raised money for centers named after them, as well.

Waters' abuse of her powers and influence as a House member to obtain special treatment for OneUnited bank is arguably worse. "This sure has an unethical whiff to it," The Washington Post said in an editorial Tuesday in a classic bit of understatement.

Both ethics scandals come at a time when public disapproval of the Democratic Congress is at an all-time high. More than 80 House seats are in play in November -- mostly held by Democrats -- and Republicans need only 39 of them to take control of the now-aptly named "lower chamber."

But let's face it, this election is going to be a midterm referendum on the Obama administration and its handling of a jobless recovery, which remains weak and mediocre, and the legislative excesses of the Democratic Congress, i.e., health care reform, the budget deficit, business regulations and plans to raise taxes in a weak economy at the end of this year.

But it will also be about ethics and honesty in the Capitol, and the trials of Rangel and Waters will give voters two additional reasons to conclude that the Democrats are not hosting "the most ethical Congress in history."


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.