Melvin Luther (Mel) Watt (born August 26, 1945) is a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives. He has served North Carolina’s 12th congressional district since 1993. An attorney from Charlotte, North Carolina, Watt previously served one term as a state Senator and served as campaign manager for former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt.
Early life, education and career
Watt was born in Steele Creek, located in Mecklenburg County, and is a graduate of York Road High School in Charlotte. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1967 with a BS degree in Business Administration. In 1970, he received a JD degree from Yale University Law School and was a published member of the Yale Law Journal.
Early political career
Watt was the campaign manager of Harvey Gantt‘s campaigns for Mayor of Charlotte and for the United States Senate election in North Carolina, 1990. Watt served one term in the North Carolina Senate (1985–86).
U.S. House of Representatives
- Committee on Financial Services
- Committee on the Judiciary
He previously served on the Joint Economic Committee.
- Congressional Black Caucus
- (Watt was unanimously elected and served as the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus 2005–2006.)
- Congressional Progressive Caucus
- International Conservation Caucus
Racist incident involving Ralph Nader
In 2004, Ralph Nader attended a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, where he alleges that Congressman Watt twice uttered an “obscene racial epithet” towards him. It was alleged that Watt said: “You’re just another arrogant white man — telling us what we can do — it’s all about your ego — another f–king arrogant white man.” Although Nader wrote a letter to the Caucus and to Watt asking for an apology, none was offered.
Opposition to Federal Reserve auditing
In 2009, fellow congressman Ron Paul reported to Bloomberg that while Paul’s bill HR 1207, which mandates an audit of the Federal Reserve, was in subcommittee, Watt had substantially altered the substance of the bill, a move which had “gutted” the bill’s protections. According to Bloomberg News, on October 20, 2009, “The bill, with 308 co-sponsors, has been stripped of provisions that would remove Fed exemptions from audits of transactions with foreign central banks, monetary policy deliberations, transactions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and communications between the Board, the reserve banks and staff, Paul said today.” Paul said there is “nothing left” in the bill after Watt’s actions.
Paul responded when he and Alan Grayson of Florida passed a competing amendment hours before the bill cleared the House Financial Services Committee to restore the bill’s original language and undo Watt’s attempts to weaken its effects. Watt won support from Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts and the Congressional Black Caucus, both of which backed his amendment. Eight of the ten Black Caucus members on the committee voted against the Paul-Grayson amendment. Watt and Frank voted to inhibit the bill’s approval. With pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus to delay consideration of the bill by the full House of Representatives, it is unclear when HR 1207 will face a final vote.
The country’s largest bank Bank of America is headquartered in Charlotte in Watt’s congressional district and has threatened to leave. The Sunlight Foundation reported that 45% of Watt’s campaign contributions for 2009 are from corporations in the real estate, insurance and finance industries, the seventh-highest percentage of any member of Congress. Watt’s largest contributors included American Express, Wachovia, Bank of America and the American Bankers Association.
Support of SOPA
Congressman Watts ardently supports the Stop Online Piracy Act, stating that it is “beyond troubling to hear hyperbolic charges that this bill will open the floodgates to government censorship”. This is despite the fact that numerous individuals who have been highly influential in the development of the internet have openly stated that they are “…alarmed that Congress is so close to mandating censorship-compliance as a design requirement for new Internet innovations. This can only damage the security of the network, and give authoritarian governments more power over what their citizens can read and publish.”
Congressman Watts was formally investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics over a series of fundraising events he was involved in. On December 9, 2009 Watt held a fundraiser and soon after withdrew a proposal he had introduced to subject auto dealers to more stringent regulations. The fundraiser brought donors mainly from large finance companies such as Goldman Sachs. Watt was later cleared of charges or wrongdoing.
In 1992, Watt was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina’s newly created 12th Congressional District and became one of only two African American members elected to Congress from North Carolina in the 20th century, the other being Eva M. Clayton.