On August 29, the Dallas Morning News dropped a bombshell into the race for House District 30 in Texas: Nine-term Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Democrat, had evidently abused her position to push Congressional Black Caucus scholarship money toward several of her relatives and the children of her aides over the course of several years. According to the News:
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.”
It’s that “unknowingly” part that, first, makes no sense, and second, is now clearly not true. The CBC’s scholarship program is unambiguous on the subject of nepotism. Relatives of CBC members — and Johnson is not only a member, but has chaired the CBC — are not eligible. Johnson’s grandchildren also didn’t meet residency requirements.
Johnson took to the air on Sept 2, going on CNN with Anderson Cooper to argue in favor of her ignorance. She didn’t know the rules, she said, the rules were ambiguous, she said, and she hadn’t seen the rules, and she had no direct knowledge that any of this was going on. She even claims that she didn’t know the rules were in print — implying that their being in print is itself part of the problem. It’s evidently a problem in one sense: Their being in clear, unambiguous print makes it harder to spin the problem away.
Well. On Tuesday some additional print surfaced that is clearly a problem for Rep. Johnson. Her opponent, Republican Stephen Broden, released letters bearing Johnson’s signature, and the letters make a very unambiguous request. According to the letters, Johnson wanted the scholarship money sent directly to her relatives, not to any university or school they might be attending. Texas blog Texas GOP Vote (not affiliated with the state Republican Party) has posted the letters. They’re brief and to the point. As the Dallas Morning News reports:
[T]he letters suggest a far more direct role for the Dallas Democrat than she acknowledged in the last week after revelations by The News that she awarded at least 23 scholarships to her relatives and the children of a top staffer – in violation of the foundation’s nepotism and residency rules….
The letters are on Johnson’s U.S. House letterhead. They bear a fax stamp from her Dallas office and a signature that appears to match hers from previous correspondence unrelated to the scholarships.
And they ask the CBC to send the scholarship money directly to her grandsons.
Please accept the enclosed scholarship checks for Preston Moore and Gregory Moore. If possible I would like for their checks to be made out to them instead of the University.
A couple of questions arise from this turn of events. First, did the relatives actually receive the money? And if they did, what did they do with the money? The grandsons aren’t answering any questions, no doubt on the advice of Johnson’s staff and perhaps lawyers. But Johnson is accountable to the voters of TX-30. If any of the CBC scholarship money ended up in her campaign coffers, or if it simply enriched relatives who didn’t meet any of the eligibility requirements while denying needed funds to deserving students, well, the voters deserve to know about that.