WASHINGTON – Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Texas Democrat who broke scholarship eligibility rules set by a black lawmakers group by awarding about $31,000 to her relatives and an aide's children, said Wednesday she didn't shortchange others to benefit her own family.
Since 2005, Johnson, who represents a Dallas-area district, awarded about a third of scholarships she had available through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to two grandsons and two great-nephews and to the son and daughter of her top aide in Dallas. After the Dallas Morning News reported the awards on Sunday, Johnson repaid the foundation.
Foundation rules for its scholarships prohibit nepotism and providing awards to students living or attending schools outside a lawmaker's district. None of the six related to Johnson or her aide lived in her district, the Morning News reported.
In a letter Wednesday to the newspaper that her office released to other news media, Johnson repeated her earlier statement that she had violated the foundation's rules unknowingly. She also said the story was a source of criticism of her.
"This for me has been quite challenging because I believe it was intended to cast me in an unfair light that was intended to distort my image before my constituents and those who know of my personal commitment to public service," the congresswoman wrote. "This article gave the appearance that I overlooked the needs of a segment of my constituency to benefit my family; this was not the case."
After the scholarships from Johnson came to light, the chairman of the foundation, Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., said, "There will be no self-dealing or nepotism in the awarding of college scholarships" and ordered an immediate audit of the program.
Amy Goldson, the foundation's attorney, has said there were false certifications in Johnson's scholarship awards and pointed out that, under foundation rules, the lawmaker awarding the scholarships or the lawmaker's designee must certify that the recipients are not related to the lawmaker.