Stephen Broden criticizes Congressional Black Caucus member Eddie Bernice Johnson for breaking ethics rules in scholarship gate

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Election opponent says Eddie Bernice Johnson denied qualified student’s scholarship application
Stephen Broden, Johnson’s Republican challenger in U.S. House District 30, says the congresswoman responded to the 2007 application by telling the student that funds weren’t available.

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Rep. Johnson: ‘I did not have an ethical alarm …, posted with vodpod

WFAA: Rep. Johnson: ‘I did not have an ethical alarm go off’

New revelations Thursday further call into question the judgment of Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson when it comes to awarding scholarships.

She says she never knew there was a rule against giving Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarships to family and friends, and she says she helps everyone who calls her for help.

But her opponent in the upcoming election asks: Is that really the case?

Johnson told News 8 there’s a simple explanation why she doled out scholarships to relatives and children of a staff member ineligible for them under foundation rules. “I never saw any rules for the scholarships until this year,” she said, “and they were always ambiguous.”

The 18-year Democratic congresswoman says her conscience never bothered her. “I did not have an ethical alarm go off,” she said. “I’ve acknowledged I made a mistake. I should have given it more attention; I did not, and that’s why I paid every penny back.”

Johnson said she paid back the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation about $31,000 from personal funds after The Dallas Morning News reported about the scholarships she steered to family and staff.

News 8 asked her why she didn’t just give them her money instead. “They never asked me,” she said. “They saw the kids getting scholarships and they applied. There was no rule at that time for them not to get any.”

Johnson insists that she and her staff guide students to scholarship money when contacted. “And when I speak to them, I tell them, don’t let it be money that keeps you from going. We’ll find some way to assist,” she said.

But her November opponent, Republican Stephen Broden, produced a 2007 letter from a Dallas man asking for Johnson’s help finding financial aid for a student who lived in her district. Johnson wrote back for the girl to see her school financial advisor without mentioning the foundation scholarships — or any others, for that matter.

“I think that some people were hurt in this,” Broden said. “First of all, the students who qualified for it who were in the district were hurt because they did not receive these funds.”

Johnson said it is possible that that that was her reply. “It might be,” she said. “I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen the letter.”

Broden still has a steep uphill climb to unseat Johnson, who is in a very Democratic district. She beat her 2008 Republican opponentin 2008 with 82 percent of the vote.

More on the troubles of Eddie Bernice Johnson:

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson violated rules, steered scholarships to relatives

10:28 AM CDT on Monday, August 30, 2010

By TODD J. GILLMAN and CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning 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.”

Initially, she said, “I recognized the names when I saw them. And I knew that they had a need just like any other kid that would apply for one.” Had there been more “very worthy applicants in my district,” she added, “then I probably wouldn’t have given it” to the relatives.

Her handling of the scholarships puts a rare spotlight on the program and how it is overseen. Caucus members have great leeway in how they pick winners and how aggressively they publicize the awards. Some lawmakers promote the program online, for instance, while Johnson does not.

Philanthropy experts said such lax oversight of scholarship money doesn’t match the standards for charities.

The foundation – which is supported by private and corporate donations, not taxpayer money – provides $10,000 annually for each member of the Congressional Black Caucus to award in scholarships. Each gets to decide how many ways to split the money and whether to create a judging panel, choose personally or delegate the task.
Johnson, a former chairwoman of the caucus who has served on the board that oversees the foundation, said she wasn’t fully aware of the program rules and emphasized that she didn’t “personally benefit.”

In her interview with The Dallas Morning News, on Wednesday, Johnson said “hundreds of kids got scholarships since I have been here.” Her district covers much of southern Dallas County, including many of the area’s less affluent precincts.

“The most that any kid normally gets is from $1,000 to $1,200. … If it was a secret or if I was trying to hide it, I wouldn’t have done it,” she said.
The foundation’s general counsel, Amy Goldson, said Saturday that the scholarships Johnson awarded violated eligibility rules regarding relatives and residency and are “of great concern.”

The program “operates on an honor system,” so the foundation hadn’t known that money went to Johnson’s relatives, she said. But when a recipient fails to meet eligibility requirements or “misrepresents their eligibility, the scholarship funds must be returned.”

Further, Goldson said, the failure of a lawmaker or aides to follow eligibility rules “is a violation of the letter and spirit of [the Foundation’s] requirements.”

“It is inappropriate for a lawmaker to certify the award of a scholarship to a relative in a situation where the lawmaker or their staff is involved in the selection of the recipient,” she said.

Apart from the residency requirements, the scholarship rules state that students must have a 2.5-grade-point average, but there are no explicit judging criteria.
Johnson awarded nine to 11 scholarships a year from 2005 to 2008, the most recent years for which information was available. Each of those years, three or four winners were related to her or her district director, Rod Givens. Johnson said she divided the available funds equally among recipients, and every qualified applicant got a scholarship.

The foundation asks applicants to certify that they aren’t related to those associated with the caucus or the foundation, but it does not specify which relationships that includes.

Scholarships have gone to two of the congresswoman’s grandsons, Kirk and David Johnson; to two of her great-nephews, Gregory and Preston Moore; and to Givens’ son and daughter. Givens did not respond to requests for comment, and none of the scholarship recipients could be reached.

‘Not … proper’

Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, said that, ideally, scholarship and grant decisions should be made by disinterested arbiters, preferably on the basis of excellence or need.

Johnson’s system “is not an appropriate or proper way to distribute scholarship funds,” he said.

“It’s totally fine if the congressman or -woman wants to reach inside their own pocket and give, but to use money that people got tax deductions on to then benefit their family – it would just be setting up nonprofit organizations to get tax benefits to put their kids through college. It would wreck the whole system if that kind of thing were allowed,” Borochoff said.

He said a scholarship with so few criteria for recipients would normally attract dozens if not hundreds of applicants if it were well publicized.

“There should be outrage because there are probably students who are more deserving and more needy of the funds,” Borochoff said.

The combined scholarship total for the six students over four years was less than $20,000, based on Johnson’s accounting of the scholarships. That appears to be less than half the total Johnson awarded over that time. Of 43 scholarships her office awarded between 2005 and 2008, 15 went to relatives of Johnson or Givens, according to foundation annual reports.

Johnson, in the interview Wednesday, dismissed concerns about the propriety of giving to her relatives or her staffers.

“We look at the kids that apply, look at their qualifications, and if they have the application there with all the ingredients, we try to help,” she said. “I doubt if there is anybody in my district going to question me giving $1,000 to a kid to help him with college.”

The congresswoman, 74, who is expected to handily win a 10th term this fall over a relatively unknown Republican, said flatly that there was no favoritism for her aide’s children or for her grandsons or great-nephews.

“Same application. Same requirements,” she said.

Rules clear, lawyer says

The Congressional Black Caucus consists of one U.S. senator and 41 House members – among them Johnson and two other Texans, Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, both of Houston. All are Democrats.

The foundation is a separate, nonprofit charitable organization whose board at any time includes only a few caucus members.

The foundation, which awarded $716,000 to 556 students last year, has been criticized for spending less on scholarships than on galas and conferences that allow lobbyists to rub elbows with influential lawmakers. Fundraising for the caucus itself and its members is tightly regulated, but the closely related foundation faces few restrictions.

In 2002, Johnson chaired the caucus and served on its board.

She continued to serve on the foundation board through 2005 – a year when both great-nephews and grandson Kirk Johnson received scholarships through her office, despite a rule explicitly forbidding awards to relatives of foundation board members.

Goldson, the foundation attorney, said the rules make clear that applicants cannot be related to any member of the black caucus, the foundation’s staff, directors, members of its corporate advisory council or any sponsor, a list that includes scores of major companies. “Any misrepresentation will result in disqualification of the application,” she said.

Each caucus member who participates in the foundation’s scholarship program is responsible for publicizing the competition locally. Some do so more aggressively than others. Many list the opportunity on their official U.S. House websites, often under a tab dedicated to “students.”

Johnson’s website makes no mention of the scholarships.

“This has been going on long before there was any websites,” she said. “We send information to the high schools. I haven’t known anybody who didn’t know about it, to tell you the truth.”

Counselors at four southern Dallas high schools didn’t return calls last week to discuss the matter.

Selection process varies

The foundation raises the funds, sets requirements and provides application forms. But the process for picking winners varies among lawmakers.

Apart from the GPA of at least 2.5, students must submit personal and financial information, a transcript, letters of recommendation, an essay on goals, and a copy of their federal student aid report to their local member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Johnson said aides in Dallas – where Givens is her senior aide – review applications and forward to her all those that qualify.

“When they come to this office, there’s hardly much decision to be made. We find out how many applicants, how much money, divide it up, send it in,” she said. “I’ve not given any money where there was no need. And I don’t think a $1,000 scholarship’s going to do too much, but it helps when you need it.”

Johnson’s assets – not counting a blind trust that owns a newsstand concession at Dallas Love Field – amounted to less than $97,000 in 2008. Her wealth puts her in the bottom quarter of House members, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. Apart from her $174,000-a-year congressional salary, she reported a $35,000 pension for her previous service in the state Legislature, and $22,000 from Social Security last year.

In doling out their scholarship money, some lawmakers pick one winner, others as many as 18.

Johnson gave out nine scholarships in 2005, 11 in 2006 and 10 in 2007. Every qualified applicant got a piece of the pie, she said, though her office did not provide details on the number of applications submitted each year.

Johnson said she never asked the foundation or anyone else if it was acceptable for her to award scholarships to relatives.

“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.”
‘As best I could’

But the Johnsons, Moores and Givenses weren’t eligible under other foundation rules requiring recipients to reside or go to school in a congressional district represented by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

None of the six lived or attended school in Johnson’s district. They lived in districts represented by white Republicans.

Read the rest here

More here Relatives of lawmaker, aide got $25,000 in scholarships; Johnson vows to repay money

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Texas GOP Vote Blog Reports:

On Wednesday August 25th, both Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) and her Republican opponent Pastor Stephen Broden were invited to speak to the Hispanic Community on the issues that affect District 30 and debate on the Contacto Inmigrante Show. While Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson declined the offer, candidate Pastor Stephen Broden accepted the invitation and received a great response from the Hispanic Community. The host of the show, Mr. Jose Luis Flores, stated that he called US Representative Johnson’s office several times over several weeks with no response until the last day when he was told “the Congresswoman was not interested” in coming to the show to speak about the issues with the Hispanic Community. On the contrary, Pastor Stephen Broden responded immediately to the opportunity.

During the show the host asked several questions to Pastor Broden and also several phone calls from the viewers were answered in the studio. Mr. Flores began by telling the community that President Obama does not keep promises and that Hispanics do take that in account because Hispanics “do keep their promises”. He said that legislators have to be held accountable for what they say during their campaigns, and he was aware of problems in District 30. He explained to the audience that his intention was to bring both points of view to the Spanish speaking community for those living in District 30 who are not familiar with their congresswoman and the candidate running against her. He was disappointed Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson “was not interested”.

The viewers were able to get to know Pastor Broden, his background, the reasons he is running for congress, and his answers to the variety of questions regarding the issues.

Questions given to Pastor Broden during the one hour show were regarding: His position on the life of the unborn and traditional marriage. A Hispanic caller said, with disappointment, that Eddie Bernice Johnson has supported abortion in all votes involving the life of the unborn and that she supports abortion at every stage of the pregnancy of a woman. Pastor Broden said he differed from the congresswoman on that issue as he believes life begins at conception. He also answered that the institution of marriage in all societies is between a man and a woman so they may be able to procreate.

He spoke about the issue of education and the high rate of drop out from high school students from the African American and the Hispanic community in District 30 and that we must provide the best incentives that can provide our children with the best possible education to take advantage of those jobs that will be created by business moving into the district. He also answered questions regarding the economy, the heavy regulation from the federal government in small businesses, the need for the free market to provide health care, the removal of the federal government intrusion on small business, the need to create new jobs, why people have being doing business outside of the country, immigration, the 14th amendment, Arizona SB 1070, the importance of the rule of law, the document of the Constitution, the unfairness in judging all Republicans because of a few who speak with hateful rhetoric against Hispanics, the fact that government is intruding our lives, etc.

On the issue of immigration, Pastor Broden stressed the need to secure our borders first, that it is our responsibility as a nation to secure our borders, and the need to fix the broken immigration system. He acknowledges that the current system is broken and we need to think through how we can deal with this very complicated issue. The solution will not be easy, but both Democrats and Republicans need to sit and talk to find a solution. He said that his intent is to show the kind of courage that is needed to resolve this very serious problem, and that there is a need for us as a nation to honor and respect our laws. Pastor Broden was also asked about his thoughts about the Dream Act, he responded that at this time he will study the Dream Act to see what will be a fair and equitable solution to a very complicated issue.

Pastor Broden also said that he makes a distinction between immigration and illegal immigration, explaining that illegal immigration is a larger definition than just Hispanics, we have other groups, including terrorists coming in, etc. and many of them want to hurt our nation and we have to stop that. He said that the Republican Party is about limited government and that the essence of Liberty is the proper limitation of the government. Pastor Broden explained Eddie Bernice Johnson has given 18 years of service to TX-30 as Congresswoman, which gives us a lot of time to get a clear record of what she has been able to accomplish. District 30 is behind on economical development, is in need of jobs, and the education is suffering. The Hispanic community called and responded positively letting Candidate Stephen Broden know that they were grateful to hear a Republican who cares for their values and for his District.

Stephen Broden ended with the following message:

To the Hispanic Community, It is important for you to begin to investigate what has happened in the last 18 years in the 30th District of Dallas. There has been a loss of jobs. There has been a reduction of business development. Crime is on the rise in our community. There is a breakdown between our leadership and the needs of our community. It is time for a change. That change can happen when we vote our values. I represent your values. I am a conservative republican. I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe in the traditional family. I believe in freedom and liberty. Its time for a change, I need your vote.

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