Former CBC Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s In Trouble

Another black lawmaker faces allegations of ethics violations.

By Jamilah King Aug 31, 2010

Another member of the Congressional Black Caucus may be in trouble. The Dallas Morning News reports that Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas has admitted to breaking anti-nepotism rules by awarding CBC Foundation scholarships to her grandchildren and the kids of her aides.

It’s worth noting that the scholarships are funded by donations and not taxpayer dollars. Each caucus member is given $10,000 a year in scholarships to award to students in their districts. The students, in turn, must prove that they live within the district, have a minimum 2.5 GPA, and not be related to a caucus member.

But according to Talking Points Memo, Johnson didn’t hold that last part in very high regard:

Between 2005 and 2008, she awarded a total of 15 scholarships to the six students. She told the News that no single award was more than $1,200 and that if there were more "very worthy applicants in my district," she might not have given the scholarships to her relatives. She also apparently broke the rules by awarding scholarships to students outside of her district.

An attorney for the foundation, Amy Goldson, says that Johnson’s admission is of "great concern" and that any scholarships awarded to ineligible students must be returned.

For her part, Johnson seems to feel the heat.

"While I did not personally benefit, I never intentionally violated any rules and I have never restricted my helping a student based on his/her residence. In order to avoid any further appearance of impropriety, I will work with the [foundation] to rectify the financial situation," she told the Dallas Morning News.

The CBC has been under increased scrutiny in recent months after several high profile members have led very public battles over charges of ethics violations. In July, the House ethics subcommittee slapped longtime Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel with 13 ethics violations. Those charges stemmed mostly from allegations that Rangel improperly solicited funds from corporate donors for his self-named center at City College of New York while he was chairman of the Ways and Means committee. Less than a week later, longtime Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters was charged with three ethics violations stemming from allegations that she helped OneUnited bank receive bailout funds in 2008 while her husband served on the bank’s board.

At one point earlier this year, all eight lawmakers under formal investigation by the House ethics subcommittee were black Democrats. The spotlight has led some to question whether black lawmakers face more scrutiny than their white counterparts. Jamelle Bouie over at The American Prospect argued that incumbency was the problem; black politicians are more likely to stay in office longer, and that sort of comfortable familiarity with power is bound to breed corruption. Whatever the causes, it’s clear that entrenched power in black communities is clearly a problem.

Both Rangel and Waters have pushed for public trials, which could resume shortly after Congress returns from summer recess on September 13.

Johnson is former the chairwoman of the CBC, and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 after having already served nearly twenty years in the Texas House and Senate.