Rep. Maxine Waters Paid Her Daughter $750,000 to Send Campaign Mailers-Mostly Truth! & Outdated! 

Summary of eRumor:

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters has paid her daughter, Karen Waters, about $750,000 to send campaign mailers on behalf of the Citizens for Waters campaign since 2006.

The Truth:

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, has faced criticism dating back to 2001 for essentially charging other candidates in the Los Angeles-area for her endorsement by way of fees for campaign mailers, also known as slate mailers.

Maxine Waters has also faced scrutiny for her family, and her daughter Karen in particular, personally benefiting from hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees generated by the congresswoman’s slate mailers dating as far back as 1996. However, it’s not clear that there were any new developments with the story when it re-emerged in April 2017.

The issue resurfaced in April 2017 when the conservative Washington Free Beacon breathed new life into the story with a report appearing under the headline, “Daughter of Maxine Waters Has Collected $600K in Campaign Funds,” and a follow-up report appearing under the headline, “Maxine Waters Slated to Pay Daughter Another $108K From Campaign Funds.”

It’s true that Maxine Waters’s campaign, Citizens for Waters, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars generated from slate mailer fees to a consulting firm operated by her daughter called “Progressive Connections.” Progressive Connections was paid $94,794 in the 2006 election cycle, $152,587 in the 2008 election cycle, $195,250 in the 2010 election cycle , $13,500 in the 2012 election cycle, $18,000 in 2014 election cycle, and nothing in the 2016 election cycle. Those payments to Progressive Connections totaled $456,131.

It’s not clear whether Progressive Connections continues to operate, but we weren’t able to find any trace of an active company or nonprofit listed as doing business under that name in California by April 2017.

Maxine Waters’ use of election mailers to raise campaign funds prior to the 2016 election cycle is a fairly complicated issue to understand. The practice gained widespread attention (and public scrutiny) in 2010, at a time when election mailers generated about half of Waters’ total campaign revenues. A a blog post by the non-profit Sunlight Foundation from that time explains how it worked:

Waters, who has been in Congress for more than three decades, routinely sends out mailers endorsing a list of other candidates and ballot initiatives she supports. In the 2010 cycle, she has raised more than $295,550 out of a total of $497,300 through these mailers. And getting on one of her slate mailers doesn’t come cheap—to be featured on the “Citizens for Maxine Waters” slate, candidates pay anywhere between $250 and $45,000.

Friends of Barbara Boxer, the campaign committee for Sen. Boxer, D-Calif., paid $5,000 for an endorsement. Gloria Romero, the former Senate Majority Leader running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, chipped in $25,000. Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco and a candidate for lieutenant governor, and Kamala Harris, San Francisco’s district attorney and a candidate for state attorney general, have kicked in $45,000 and $25,000 respectively. Dave Jones, candidate for State Insurance Commissioner, invested $25,000.

Christian Hill, an FEC spokesperson, explained to the Sunlight Foundation that money paid to Maxine Waters’ campaign for state mailers was exempt from the definition of “contribution” and “expenditure” under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), and was treated similarly to interest campaigns earn from bank accounts or investments, usually categorized as “other” in FEC summaries:

By using slate mailers, Waters’ campaign avoids the same contribution limits that apply to individuals, PACs and authorized campaign committees (that is, the reelection committees of other members of Congress). For instance, the campaign of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., paid $5,000 to be endorsed on Waters’ slate mailer. Similarly, U.S. House candidate Laura Richardson paid Waters’ committee $8,800 to appear on the mailer. Under federal campaign law, those campaigns would have been limited to $2,000 contributions for each election.

And Maxine Waters’ family connection to the slate mailers goes back to the early 2000s. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 that a group run by Karen Waters called L.A. Vote had collected $1.7 million in mailer fees from local candidates from 1996-2004, about $450,000 of which went to Karen Waters’ Progressive Connections for management fees:

Campaign disclosure reports show that L.A. Vote has collected more than $1.7 million over the last eight years, mostly from candidates and ballot measure sponsors who paid to have their names and causes listed. About $450,000 went to Karen Waters and her consulting firm, Progressive Connections, and $115,000 to her brother, Edward, a high school basketball coach and sometime political consultant.

Payments from campaigns have varied widely. The state law that governs slate mailers sets no limits on how much candidates can be charged or how much people like the Waters children can be paid. It requires only a public accounting.

Well-known politicians such as former Gov. Gray Davis, state Treasurer Philip Angelides and Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn have been charged tens of thousands of dollars. Others have paid nothing. A school board candidate paid $250. Al Checchi, a wealthy businessman and political novice who ran for governor in 1998, paid L.A. Vote the most: $171,000.

Then, in August 2010, the independent Cal Watchdog reported that Maxine Waters’ federal campaigns began collecting fees for the election mailers and continued to pay large amounts to Karen Waters’ Progressive Connections from 2005 to 2010:

Federal campaign records reveal that, since 2005, Congresswoman Waters’ campaign committees have paid more than $350,000 – and currently claim to owe another $82,000 – in management fees to an entity known as “Progressive Connections.”  Don’t bother looking online for detailed information about Progressive Connections, as this firm doesn’t aggressively advertise.  Records reveal that Progressive Connections is the fictitious business name used by Maxine Waters’ daughter, Karen Waters.

So, it’s true that Progressive Connections, a consulting firm tied to Karen Waters, was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue generated from fees charged to local candidates for election mailers. It’s also true that Waters has faced scrutiny about her use of election mailers to raise campaign funds and to benefit her family members dating all the way back to the early 2000s. However, it’s not clear that Maxine Waters or her campaigns continued to use the same tactics, or that the story was “breaking news” when a fresh round of accusations surfaced.

We can report, however, that Karen Waters has since since been listed in campaign filings as receiving direct payments for her role on her mother’s congressional campaign in recent election cycles. Karen Waters was paid $3,675 in the 2010 election cycle, $9,677 in the 2012 election cycle, $164,136 in the 2014 election cycle, and $65,287 in the 2016 election cycle. It should be noted the practice of paying family members to work on congressional campaigns is not illegal, and it’s not uncommon. Representatives from both political parties have faced scrutiny for putting their family members on campaign payrolls — and the House has refused to pass a bill banning the practice, USA Today reports.

Given all of that, we’re calling reports that Maxine Waters paid her daughter hundreds of thousands of dollars to work on campaign mailers “mostly truth” and “outdated.”

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Collected on: 04/27/2017