The scandal surrounding Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is getting bigger. Earlier this week we reported that Johnson violated Congressional Black Caucus Foundation rules by awarding scholarship money to four relatives and a top aide’s two children, according to an attorney for the Foundation. Today we heard Johnson speak out about the issue for the first time, and to make matters worse, evidence emerged that she turned down qualified students while giving relatives the scholarship money.

Johnson said today,

“I never heard the rules even discussed,” she told KRLD-AM (1080). “I can’t really blame anyone. I could have researched them myself. But the rules just came to me. One sheet came last year, which I didn’t read well, which was my mistake. They were really very ambiguous rules.”

What makes that a little hard to believe is that Johnson helped to make those “ambiguous” rules. Johnson was not only Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)  the scholarship sponsor in 2002, but she served on the board of the CBC foundation from 2002-2005 which distributes the money for the CBC (the questionable scholarships were awarded in 2005 and 2006). If she didn’t have a general idea of the rules, she couldn’t have been very good board member.

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Foundation officials say nepotism rules and residency requirements have been in place all along and should have been followed. Applicants, they noted, are required to sign a certification saying they aren’t related to anyone involved in selecting winners or running the program, including members of the black caucus and their aides. 

The Congresswoman repaid the $31,000 to the foundation yesterday and then lashed out at everyone involved in reporting the story.

Johnson, whose district covers most of South Dallas, took issue with that this morning but said that “with the way it was reported” in The News, she could see why “someone would rush to that judgment.

“This reporter has been trying to find something negative on me for a long, long time and I think it was exaggerated,” she said.

She also alleged that “a fired employee” had leaked damaging information to The News.

“They made a big story out of it. I’m sorry about it. I’m sorry it happened. But If I had known that I was wrong, it would not have happened. But more than that, this employee that was fired would have never even known about it, but he took the records out of the office and fed it to the person that everybody knew didn’t like me,” she said.

But she didn’t say the story was not true.  Earlier this week Congresswoman Johnson told The Dallas Morning News that every eligible applicant to her office got a share of scholarship funds, though she added that she might not have made awards to relatives if more applicants had surfaced.

Today we found out her claim of no eligible applicant turned away was not true.

At a news conference this morning, Republican challenger Stephen Broden said Johnson failed to properly publicize the scholarships, leaving qualified candidates out of the loop, and should face an investigation by a House ethics committee. 

Stephen Broden distributed a letter sent to Johnson in October 2007 by retired Marine Lt. Col. Ray Huebner, asking her to help find financial aid for an outstanding High School student he met while she was a volunteer at the North Texas Veterans Administration Hospital. Unfortunately for the student, the Lt. Col asking for the help was a Republican

Johnson wrote back, advising that the student, Davetta Carter – who lives in her district – should explore resources with her school counselor. The letter makes no mention of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship program or any other.

“While I appreciate the opportunity to financially contribute to this very worthy mission, I must unfortunately decline your request,” Johnson wrote. “As you can imagine, I receive many requests for financial support and it is impossible to contribute to all worthy endeavors.”

Ms Carter, who is now a cashier at Staples,  told the newspaper that she ran out of money after her sophomore year and had to drop out of Stephen F. Austin State University.

“It would’ve been a great deal of help if I had actually received that financial support,” she said, “because after two years, I had to leave. … I couldn’t afford to go to school anymore.”

 She added that the misused scholarship funds “hurt a lot of people. … She could’ve given that money to many other students, not just myself, and helped them out.”

There are probably other Davetta Carters’s out there.

Even if we suspend disbelief and believe that Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson didn’t know that the official rules banned giving the scholarship money to relatives, the fact that she didn’t have the common sense to realize that nepotism was unethical says something about her qualifications for re-election. It’s common sense whether you are aware of specific rules or not.

Source: Dallas Morning News