Monday, August 30, 2010

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's slush fund to take care of relatives

Dallas representative Eddie Bernice Johnson has taken advantage of a scholarship fund set run by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to steer college scholarships to her and her aide's relatives.
ongtime Dallas congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson has awarded thousands of dollars in college scholarships to four relatives and a top aide's two children since 2005, using foundation funds set aside for black lawmakers' causes.

The recipients were ineligible under anti-nepotism rules of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which provided the money. And all of the awards violated a foundation requirement that scholarship winners live or study in a caucus member's district.
It's quite a nice racket. The Caucus gets money from private and corporations that want to win their support. Then the individual members can decide who gets the scholarships and how much they want to advertise the availability of these awards. It's a format that is rife for the type of corruption that Rep. Johnson has demonstrated.
Johnson awarded nine to 11 scholarships a year from 2005 to 2008, the most recent years for which information was available. Each of those years, three or four winners were related to her or her district director, Rod Givens. Johnson said she divided the available funds equally among recipients, and every qualified applicant got a scholarship.

The foundation asks applicants to certify that they aren't related to those associated with the caucus or the foundation, but it does not specify which relationships that includes.

Scholarships have gone to two of the congresswoman's grandsons, Kirk and David Johnson; to two of her great-nephews, Gregory and Preston Moore; and to Givens' son and daughter. Givens did not respond to requests for comment, and none of the scholarship recipients could be reached.
Her defense is that she didn't personally benefit. Yeah, but her grandchildren and great-nephews sure did. And unlike other members of the CBC, she didn't do much to advertise the scholarships. But her relatives sure knew about it.
The foundation, which awarded $716,000 to 556 students last year, has been criticized for spending less on scholarships than on galas and conferences that allow lobbyists to rub elbows with influential lawmakers. Fundraising for the caucus itself and its members is tightly regulated, but the closely related foundation faces few restrictions.

In 2002, Johnson chaired the caucus and served on its board.

She continued to serve on the foundation board through 2005 – a year when both great-nephews and grandson Kirk Johnson received scholarships through her office, despite a rule explicitly forbidding awards to relatives of foundation board members.

Goldson, the foundation attorney, said the rules make clear that applicants cannot be related to any member of the black caucus, the foundation's staff, directors, members of its corporate advisory council or any sponsor, a list that includes scores of major companies. "Any misrepresentation will result in disqualification of the application," she said.

Each caucus member who participates in the foundation's scholarship program is responsible for publicizing the competition locally. Some do so more aggressively than others. Many list the opportunity on their official U.S. House websites, often under a tab dedicated to "students."

Johnson's website makes no mention of the scholarships.
And as an added kicker to how sleazy this was - her relatives didn't live or attend school in her district even though that is part of the foundation rules. But she defends that as just giving money to needy students wherever they live. Or, I guess, whomever they're related to.