Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson Awarded Scholarships to Relatives

Posted August 29, 2010 at 4:16pm

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) told the Dallas Morning News that she had unknowingly violated Congressional Black Caucus Foundation anti-nepotism and residency rules in awarding thousands of dollars in college scholarships to relatives and the children of a top aide, the newspaper reported Sunday.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation provides $10,000 in scholarships annually to each Congressional Black Caucus member. Caucus members individually publicize the program, decide the number of recipients and select winners. The foundation is supported by private and corporate donations, not taxpayer money.

Johnson, who was CBC chairwoman in 2002 and is a former member of the foundation’s board, said she was not fully aware of the program’s rules. She awarded nine to 11 scholarships per year from 2005 to 2008, and three or four winners each year were related to her or her district director, Rod Givens, the Morning News reported. Scholarships were awarded to two of Johnson’s grandsons, two of her great-nephews, and Givens’ son and daughter. The six did not live in or attend school in a district represented by a CBC member, as required by the program, the newspaper reported.

The total scholarship money awarded to the six was less than $20,000, based on Johnson’s records.

In a statement, Johnson said she would work with the foundation to “rectify the financial situation.”

Johnson told the newspaper that she divided the available funds equally among recipients and that every qualified applicant got a scholarship. “I recognized the names when I saw them,” Johnson said. “And I knew that they had a need just like any other kid that would apply for one.” She also said that had there been more “very worthy applicants” in her district, she “probably wouldn’t have given it” to the relatives.

Johnson told the newspaper that she never asked whether her relatives could be given the scholarships. “It’s never come up with me,” she said. “But let me just say this: None of these people are my immediate family. Immediate family doesn’t include grandchildren.”

Amy Goldson, the foundation’s general counsel, told the newspaper Saturday that the scholarships violated anti-nepotism and residential eligibility rules and are “of great concern.” She said the rules clearly state that applicants cannot be related to members of the CBC or the foundation’s staff.

She said the foundation did not know money went to Johnson’s relatives because the program “operates on an honor system.”

Johnson is up for re-election this fall for a 10th term. CQ Politics has rated the race as Safe for Johnson, meaning she is virtually certain to win.