Another House Ethics Problem; Hypocrisy Taints Caucus Members Who Rail against Wall Street Ways

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 7, 2010 | Go to article overview

Another House Ethics Problem; Hypocrisy Taints Caucus Members Who Rail against Wall Street Ways


Byline: Eric Wang, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has not had a good run of luck before the House ethics committee lately. Two of its senior members face trials before the panel. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, is accused of cheating on his taxes, abusing New York rent-control laws and improperly using congressional stationery. Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, is alleged to have steered bailout money to a bank in which her husband had a sizable financial interest. Now come Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat, and Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Georgia Democrat, who have admitted to improperly doling out Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship funds to their relatives and a staffer's children.

As of now, it remains unclear whether the House ethics apparatus, which has its hands full, will ultimately take up Scholarshipgate, but the conduct at issue may present yet another ethics headache for the caucus. Although House rules do not directly regulate the CBC Foundation's spending and internal governance, they do regulate how it raises money. Because the CBC's scholarship funds could not have been awarded improperly without first having been raised, the House ethics committee ultimately may have jurisdiction over this matter.

Under the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, government officials, including members of Congress, generally may not solicit anything of value from any person seeking official action from, or whose interests may be substantially affected by, the official's agency or department. Both the Senate and House ethics committees have created a limited exception to allow members to solicit on behalf of charities, provided that the members do not benefit personally from the solicitations.

Applying these rules to the CBC Foundation scholarship, the conduct of the members at issue appears to be somewhat problematic. According to the foundation's most recent annual report, it has indeed solicited funds from entities with interests pending before Congress, such as Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, BP, United Parcel Service, FedEx, Toyota, AT&T, Verizon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, just to name a few.

As for the members' personal benefit in this case, Mrs. Johnson has admitted to awarding 23 foundation scholarships totaling $31,000 to her grandsons, great nephews and two children of her district director. Moreover, none of these recipients (including the district director's children) resided in Mrs. …

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