My Advocacy on Behalf of Minority and Community Banks

I have been an outspoken advocate for minority communities and businesses in California and nationally for decades. Recent press reports have raised questions about my advocacy on behalf of minority banks. Ultimately, however, these articles only revealed one thing: I am indeed an advocate for minority banks.

Despite my public and consistent advocacy, news reports suggest that somehow I have acted improperly.

Let me set the record straight:

The National Bankers Association (NBA), the leading trade organization which represents the interests of America's minority-owned banks, requested a meeting with Treasury Department officials last year as the financial crisis was unfolding, jeopardizing the health of banks large and small. It is important to clarify that this meeting was requested and scheduled on behalf of the NBA, not on behalf of OneUnited Bank as press reports suggest. The letter from NBA to Treasury indicates the intent of the meeting and the dire concern expressed by the association on behalf of its members. The NBA contacted Treasury directly just as other trade associations did, to request a meeting so that its members could discuss their concerns regarding the situations facing minority banks. I followed up on the association's request by asking Treasury Secretary Paulson to schedule such a meeting, as did other members of Congress. Secretary Paulson recognized that the NBA's concerns about the future of minority banks were valid and arranged for a meeting in early September.

I did not attend the meeting, and thus did not participate in the conversation. Press reports of the meeting focus on concerns expressed on behalf of a single bank. However, NBA's follow-up letter to Treasury, reiterates the organization's concerns about the fiscal health of its members generally (2).

The press reports also perpetuate a misconception about the way in which funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) are distributed to banks requesting assistance. The Executive Branch administers TARP funds, not Congress. In particular, the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) decide which financial institutions should receive funds. As reported, Treasury officials admit that the decision to distribute TARP funds to OneUnited Bank were based on the merits of the banks request, not based on anything said at the September meeting and not based on political influence. (Although both 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.)

My husband Ambassador Sidney Williams, who has represented the United States as an Ambassador and has been a respected and active member of the Los Angeles community for many years, was asked to sit on the board of OneUnited Bank. This bank services our community and was the successor to the bank of which we had been customers at for many years. He accepted the position and did not accept any director's compensation for his work on behalf of the bank and the community it serves.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, I have fully disclosed all of my financial interests in official filings. These filings included the stock my husband purchased upon joining OneUnited's board (it is required under Massachusetts law, where OneUnited is headquartered, that individuals hold stock in a bank before joining its board). Furthermore, Ambassador Williams is proud to be invested in a minority owned community bank that was given an "outstanding" lending rating from its regulator for its lending activity in underserved communities in Los Angeles, where traditional banks have refused to lend. I even took additional steps beyond what is required of Members of Congress when I voluntarily and publicly disclosed my husband's relationship with OneUnited during an October 30, 2007 Financial Services Committee hearing entitled "Preserving and Expanding Minority Banks." Both the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of Thrift Supervision were present at this hearing.

The federal government has a legal obligation to support minority banks, as explicitly stated in the Financial Institutions Reform Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). In particular, Section 308 of FIRREA insists that the federal government take an active role in the preservation of the number and nature of minority banks. I have previously worked to ensure that the government is held accountable in this regard, and I will continue efforts to promote the interests of minority banks. As recently as the 110th Congress, I exhibited my commitment through my participation in official Oversight hearings on minority banks, as well as the initiation of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the effectiveness of mandated government assistance to minority banks.

In addition to this focus on banks, I authored three separate provisions, two of which became law, to insure small, women and minority owned businesses could fully participate in federal contracting opportunities. Unfortunately, most Federal agencies have ignored minority participation laws and failed to make reasonable attempts to assist small, minority and women-owned banks and businesses as required by law.

I maintain that my advocacy on behalf of small, women, minority and community banks is appropriate. I will continue to bank and do business with minority depository institutions and work on behalf of my constituents, and the institutions that serve them.

Cross posted from the Huffington Post