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Report: U.S. representative gave charitable scholarships to relatives

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Congressional relatives get scholarships
  • The money comes from donations to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
  • Scholarship rules prohibit relatives from receiving money
  • Relatives of Johnson and her aide receive more than $25,000 in scholarships
  • Johnson says she will repay the scholarship money that went to family members

(CNN) -- A veteran House representative from Texas is under fire for awarding charitable scholarships associated with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to her family members and relatives of an aide.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has said she will repay all the scholarship money this week that went to relatives, a foundation spokeswoman told CNN's "AC 360."

Todd Gillman, The Dallas Morning News' Washington bureau chief, told "AC 360" that new documents show Johnson awarded scholarship money to her grandsons, David and Kirk Johnson, as well as the children of her Dallas district director, Rod Givens, last year. Each of the relatives were awarded two scholarships last year.

Johnson is a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and is a former board member of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which gives each member $10,000 every year to award as scholarships to students in each member's district. The scholarship money comes from tax-deductible charitable donations.

The newspaper reported that Johnson has awarded more than $25,000 in scholarships to two grandsons, two great-nephews, and Givens' children in the past five years.

David Johnson received scholarships three years in a row, and Kirk Johnson won scholarships four years in a row.

Johnson's great-nephew Preston A. Moore received scholarships for three consecutive years, and her great-nephew Gregory D. Moore II received money for two consecutive years.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's rules state eligible students must attend school in the district of the caucus member and not be related to anyone affiliated with the caucus.

In addition to violating the latter rule, none of Johnson's nor Givens' relatives who received scholarships lived in Johnson's district, according to the newspaper.

"AC 360" invited Johnson and Givens to appear on the show Monday night, but was told they were unavailable.

Muriel Cooper, spokeswoman for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, told CNN's Anderson Cooper the organization is taking the situation very seriously.

"Rep. Johnson told us that she did not know the rules of our scholarships, and that once she realized she erred, she would make retribution to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in terms of returning the money," she said.

"This is the first time, to our knowledge, this has happened."

When asked about oversight and whether the foundation has ever investigated where the scholarship money goes, Cooper said, "We've had no reason to investigate."

She said the foundation's board members will examine the situation, and board members will go back and review applications to ensure students met the qualifications. But Johnson is a former board member of the foundation, and some wonder whether an independent investigator needs to be involved.

"I can't address that issue," Cooper said. "All I can say is that we will send it back to our board. But certainly we don't want this to happen again."

Johnson has told the newspaper that when she signed off on the list of names of students who were to receive scholarships, she recognized the names, but also said, "immediate family doesn't include grandchildren."

But according to her website, "Congresswoman Johnson counts among her greatest accomplishments her son, Kirk, and her three grandsons, Kirk Jr., David, and James."

Johnson told the newspaper if there had been more "very worthy applicants in my district," she probably would not have given the scholarship money to the relatives.

Some students in Johnson's district may not have known the opportunity existed. Unlike other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Johnson does not publicize the scholarship on her website.

Scholarship applicants also have to sign off on an agreement saying they are not related to anyone associated with the caucus or the caucus foundation. It's unclear whether the relatives of Johnson and Givens were instructed to say they were not related.

Johnson is running for her 10th term as representative of Texas' 30th Congressional district, which covers parts of Dallas and the surrounding area.