Congresswoman redirected scholarships to relatives, aide’s children

posted at 8:45 am on August 30, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

As if Democrats didn’t have enough troubles on the ethics front with two trials coming up in the House.  Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters have company after the Dallas Morning News reported that Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson gave scholarships from a charitable fund to four relatives and the two children of her aide.  The scholarships violated an anti-nepotism rule that keeps Congressional Black Caucus members from using such charitable funds as payoffs and featherbedding accounts:

Longtime 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.

Johnson, a Democrat, denied any favoritism when asked about the scholarships last week. Two days later, she acknowledged in a statement released by her office that she had violated the rules but said she had done so “unknowingly” and would work with the foundation to “rectify the financial situation.”

Oh, please.  That doesn’t pass the smell test.  Under what system would it ever be acceptable for someone to award scholarship funds from charitable accounts to their own family members?  Common sense would tell most people that a line had been crossed, even if it wasn’t explicitly spelled out under the CBC’s own rules — which it was.

Johnson claims she didn’t “personally benefit,” but her family certainly did.  So too did the family of her district director, Rod Givens, whose two children got money from the fund.  That at least gives the appearance that Johnson used the CBC charity money to pay Givens outside of his normal salary and benefits structure, which is publicly disclosed.

It’s for this precise scenario that most charitable organizations use independent boards to select recipients for outlays.  Instead of putting the individual Representative in the role of paymaster, a smarter and less fraught method would be for the CBC to handle these applications in an aggregate manner and then have an independent panel make the final decisions, even while Representatives nominate constituents for the awards.  Why don’t they do that?  Because the entire purpose of the scholarships is to make the individual Representatives get the credit for giving the money to the students, so they can get their names in the paper and keep getting re-elected.

Johnson may get re-elected anyway, but it’s clear that she represents the swamp that needs draining, and soon.

Update: Jeff Dunetz thinks this is a perfect example of Congressional arrogance.

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