Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), issued a statement yesterday in response to the controversy swirling around the awarding of 23 scholarships by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) to relatives and associates. The statement read, in part:
Neither the Foundation nor the CBC will allow unethical behavior in the awarding of scholarships or any programs that are designed to benefit the community.
I will not allow the absence of integrity to invade the Foundation nor the scholarship program…
Payne had nothing to say about his participation in a 2008 Caribbean junket that he knew was funded by big companies like Citigroup in violation of House Rules.
I was present at the event in St. Maarten and saw Payne identify the corporate sponsors by name, and one by one, ask for a round of applause. According to my notes, Payne stated that the conference “can’t be done without the sponsors.”
The House Ethics Committee investigated the junket and “admonished” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) for his participation, prompting him to resign as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The other four members of Congress on the trip were cleared despite the overwhelming photographic evidence that I presented to the Committee that they had to be aware of the corporate sponsorship.
Payne’s spokesman would tell the New York Post, “It was our understanding that the trip was sponsored by the Carib News Foundation. We are unaware of any corporate sponsors.” Additionally, Payne checked the “no” box on his travel form in response to a question about any corporate sponsorship.
Payne himself would seek to obfuscate his knowledge of the sponsorship. From January 27, 2009 edition of The Hill:
But when told of Flaherty’s notes this month, Payne did not dispute them. He told The Hill he was thanking corporations for sponsoring the foundation, not the conference. When told of ethics rules against lawmakers participating in a trip where corporations have contributed money or services to a nonprofit for that trip, Payne said he did not know the ‘technicalities’ of the new ethics rules.
Payne also said he never saw posters bearing the corporate logos on and above the podium where he and other speakers gave remarks.
As is evident from the photographs, Payne’s representation that he did not see corporate logos on the podium sign or on the banner over the podium (above) is implausible. Corporate sponsorship was also obvious in the program and in items provided participants at registration, including a bag with the Macy’s logo on its side, and a notebook embossed with the Citigroup logo.
The Carib News Foundation, to which Payne makes reference, was the organizer of the event. It is associated with Carib News, a New York-based newspaper, published by Karl Rodney. I believe that his wife Faye had me detained by the Police Korps of St. Maarten once they realized who I was.
The Ethics Committee alleged that the Rodney’s lied to the Committee about the corporate sponsorship during its investigation. The matter was referred to the Justice Department. Although it was nice to see the Rodneys get nailed, it is unfair for them to face prosecution while members of Congress, who made the same misrepresentations, get off.
The other three members of Congress who were cleared by the Ethics Committee were Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
Payne’s statement yesterday was remarkable for another reason. Although he did not criticize Johnson by name, CBC members usually stick together, even in the wake of the crassest instances of corruption, such as when the FBI found 90 grand in former Rep. William Jefferson’s freezer.
The difference here is probably that Johnson is bringing unwanted attention to CBC’s role as a conduit for massive infusions of special interest money from companies like Wal-Mart. No one can criticize corporate sponsorship of college scholarships, except of course, when you start handing them out to relatives. Johnson made the mistake of messing with the goose that lays the golden egg.
Flaherty: Rangel Had to Know of Junket’s Corporate Sponsorship (Fox News Channel video)