Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has admitted to steering 23 scholarships worth over $25,000 to two grandchildren, two great nephews and the children of a top aide over the past four years.
The scholarships came from a non-profit affiliate of the CBC called the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which Rep. Johnson sat on the board of from 2005 to 2008. The Texas congresswoman’s family members and aides’ children were considered ineligible for the scholarships under the foundation’s anti-nepotism rules.
Each member of the CBC is allotted $10,000 a year to dispense in scholarships. The scholarships Rep. Johnson gave to friends and family members from 2005 to 2009 totaled over half of the foundation money she was responsible for allocating during that time period.
“It is inappropriate for a lawmaker to certify the award of a scholarship to a relative in a situation where the lawmaker or their staff is involved in the selection of the recipient,” the foundation’s general counsel Amy Goldson told the Dallas Morning News, which first reported the story.
Rep. Johnson has denied that she knowingly broke the foundation’s rules, and said she promises to pay back the money immediately.
“While I am not ashamed of helping, I did not intentionally mean to violate any rules in the process,” the congresswoman said a statement released Monday. “To rectify this matter immediately, I will reimburse the funds by the end of this week.”
In 2005, the congresswoman gave out nine scholarships, three of which went to her relatives; in 2006 she gave out 10, and four went to her relatives; and in 2007 she distributed 10, with four going to relatives and the son of an aide.
Documents released Monday show that in 2009, the congresswoman awarded scholarships to 12 students, with eight of the recipients receiving one award each. The other four recipients – two of Rep. Johnson’s grandsons and two of her aide’s children – were each given two scholarships.
In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Rep. Johnson denied that there was favoritism in her decisions.
“We look at the kids that apply, look at their qualifications, and if they have the application there with all the ingredients, we try to help,” she said. “I doubt if there is anybody in my district going to question me giving $1,000 to a kid to help him with college.”
Rep. Johnson is just one of several Congressional Black Caucus members to be dogged by allegations of ethics violations in recent weeks. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is facing scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee for allegedly helping to secure millions in federal bailout funds for a bank with ties to her husband. And Rep. Charles Rangle (D-NY) has also been charged with tax evasion, improper use of a rent-stabilized apartment, and quid-pro-quo solicitation of donations by the House Ethics Committee. Both lawmakers have said they will fight the allegations in public ethics hearings, which are expected to take place during the midterm election season.
The new revelations about Rep. Johnson may signal more bad news for Democrats, who are said to be concerned over the potential publicity from Rep. Waters’ and Rep. Rangel’s hearings. The Democrats are already facing a difficult battle to hang on to the majority in the House this November, and while Rep. Johnson’s seat has been considered fairly safe up until this point, these new revelations will likely highlight the Democratic Party’s increasing ethics woes.
Alana Goodman is NLPC’s Capitol Hill Reporter.