Scholarship Scandal Hits Rep. Sanford Bishop

Yet another black lawmaker's in the hot seat.

By Jamilah King Sep 10, 2010

The extensive audit into the Congressional Black Caucus Fund’s scholarship program has netted yet another lawmaker: Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia. Bishop is accused of improperly steering three scholarships to family members between 2003 and 2005, reports Politico

The audit was announced less than a month ago after Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson was found to have awarded 23 scholarships to relatives, in clear violation of the fund’s rules.

Johnson has since repaid the $31,000 in money that she improperly awarded to her relatives and the children of a top staffer. It’s unclear whether either Bishop or Johnson will join fellow CBC members Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters in facing ethics charges this fall. Both Rangel and Waters have mounted very public defenses against charges that they violated House ethics rules on separate occasions, and will likely stand trial this fall.

A spokesperson for Bishop claims that the CBC didn’t clearly update its scholarship guidelines preventing lawmakers from awarding scholarships to family members until 2008. Each member is annually given $10,000 in scholarship funds for constituents in their districts, and awards usually range from $1,000 to $2,000. Muriel Cooper, a spokeswoman for the CBC Foundation, told Politico that the organization will revisit the guidelines and processes for its scholarship programs.

The allegations against Bishop have brought up more questions of whether black lawmakers face more scrutiny than their white counterparts, or if incumbency in heavily black districts fosters corruption.

For now, the most immediate impact may be at the polls, as Democrats face yet another scandal that Republicans are sure to exploit in their quest to gain control of the House in November.

"Any member of Congress should know that if there is a chance to award scholarship money, it shouldn’t go to family members," Melanie Sloan, president of the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics in Washington, told Politico.