What does the chair of the Senate Ethics Committee have in common with one of two House Democrats expected to go on trial for ethics violations?  Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate panel, paid $5000 for the endorsement of Maxine Waters this year and $25,000 in 2004, according to Big Government.  This year’s payment for inclusion in Waters’ mailer came when the investigation into the ethics of Waters was well known.

First, though, the Washington Times explains Waters’ scheme to get unlimited donations from her colleagues:

Rep. Maxine Waters has turned political endorsements into a family business, using federal election laws to charge California candidates and political causes to include their names as her personal picks on a sample ballot, or “slate mailer,” she sends to as many as 200,000 South Central Los Angeles voters, records show.

Some statewide candidates paid as much as $45,000 for their share of the costs to be included in the mailer, according to state and federal election records, and while it can be costly for the candidates, the mailer has proved profitable for Mrs. Waters’ daughter, Karen.

Karen Waters’ public relations firm, Progressive Connections, has been paid $354,500 since late 2004 to direct production and distribution of the mailer – about a third of the $1 million collected from the candidates and issue groups seeking to be included on the sample ballot, the records show.

In 2004, the FEC ruled that this scheme was legal, but it hardly exemplifies an ethical approach to either endorsements or contributions.  Having family members involved in the pipeline at least gives the impression that this is a way for Waters to gain personal benefits from political contributions.  The Sunlight Foundation says it’s the equivalent of “selling” her endorsement, while CREW noted that it seemed designed to benefit her family, including her husband.

The chair of the Senate Ethics Committee seems remarkably unperturbed by the problem, even while the Waters investigation has been public knowledge.  There is a reason for that, which is that nepotism runs in the Democratic family:

Critics charge that Boxer has actively aided and abetted this scheme, both in the context of her 2004 and 2010 re-election campaigns.

In 2004, Boxer paid $25,000 for Waters’ endorsement.  But ahead of this year’s California primary—in which Boxer faced no serious competition– and when it was well-known that Waters was under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, Boxer paid Waters $5,000 for her backing.  It is this later payment that those monitoring Waters’ ethical woes say could act as an anchor tied to Boxer’s ankle, as she heads towards November.

“The amount is lower than what Boxer paid in 2004, yes,” said one Republican operative with whom we spoke.  “But the Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee paying for an endorsement of an official under investigation for ethics infractions connected to her using her standing to benefit her family when that fact has been widely reported presents a major optics problem, to say the least.  Ethics are already something of a surprise Achilles Heel for Boxer.  Her committee let Chris Dodd off the hook, and she’s been criticized for using her repeat candidacies for the financial benefit of her family, too.”  Added that operative,  “This is an attack ad waiting to happen.”

Indeed, Boxer has been called out for steering about $500,000 in contributions made to her political action committee to her son’s consulting firm between 2001 and 2009.  Like Waters’ scheme, this arrangement has attracted the attention of CREW, which focused on Boxer in a 2007 exposé entitled “Family Affair.”  “Waters’ problems run far deeper, of course,” said the same operative.  “But there are some interesting parallels here, to be sure.”

Democrats came to power in 2006 in large part by promising to “drain the swamp.”  That doesn’t mean that individual members of both parties won’t commit ethics violations, but Boxer’s position as chair of the Senate’s enforcement panel while participating in Waters’ scheme certainly tells a story about the commitment to clean government in the Democratic Party.