Top banking regulators were taken aback late last year when a California congresswoman helped set up a meeting in which the chief executive of a bank with financial ties to her family asked them for up to $50 million in special bailout funds, Treasury officials said.
Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, requested the September meeting on behalf of executives at OneUnited, one of the nation’s largest black-owned banks. Ms. Water’s husband, Sidney Williams, had served on the bank’s board of directors until early last year and has owned at least $250,000 in stock in the institution. Treasury officials said the session with nearly a dozen senior banking regulators had been intended to allow minority-owned banks and their trade association to discuss the losses they had incurred from the federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But Kevin Cohee, OneUnited’s chief executive, instead seized the opportunity to plead for special assistance for his bank, federal officials said.
“Here you had a tiny community bank that comes in and they are not proposing a broader policy — they were asking for help for themselves,” said Steve Lineberry, a former Treasury aide who attended the meeting. “I don’t remember that ever happening before.”
Ms. Waters declined on Tuesday to comment on the meeting, or to say if her husband still owns OneUnited shares. Her staff released two letters that showed the meeting was initially called to discuss industry concerns broadly, not matters related just to OneUnited.
The congresswoman, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, did not disclose her ties to OneUnited to Treasury officials, who said they learned of them only later.
“It angers me,” said one former Treasury official, asking that his name not be used because he had not been authorized while at Treasury to speak about the gathering. “You got to know you have to be careful when you are dealing with people who you have personal relations with.”