The One About Why People Hate Politicians

Really, can there only be ONE blog post about this topic?  I’m sure the possibilities are endless.  But let me offer you the story of one Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.  Have you heard this one yet?

Rep. Johnson has been a member of Congress for eighteen years.  She is a Senior Democratic Deputy Whip, Chair of the Texas Democratic Delegation and a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Which is the subject of her current problem.

Each member of the Congressional Black Caucus is given $10,000 each year to award to college students seeking scholarship funds.  Applicants must sign an application form promising that they are not related to or connected to any member of the Caucus, and the scholarships (according to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation website) are to be given to students who either reside in or attend school in the district of a member of the Caucus.

The Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks ago that Rep. Johnson awarded about $20,000 worth of scholarship funds over a five-year period to two of her grandsons, two grand-nephews and two children of one of her staff members.

And despite the fact that the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s practice is to send scholarship money directly to the colleges and universities of the scholarship winners, to be credited to their school accounts, Rep. Johnson on several occasions sent letters to the Caucus asking the funds to be disbursed directly to her grandsons, grand-nephews and staff member’s children.

Rep. Johnson has issued a statement saying she had no idea that there was anything wrong with awarding these scholarships to her relatives, said she had no formal process for reviewing scholarship applications, and that the rules for the scholarships were ambiguous.

But they were not.

Rep. Johnson has acknowledged that she made a mistake, and has said she would return the funds that she awarded to her relatives and to her staff member’s kids to the Foundation. But for someone who represents a district filled with poor, minority students for whom even a small scholarship would make a huge difference in their ability to attend college, Johnson seems not to understand the damage she has done, both to the students in her district and to the trust that voters have placed in her for her decades as an elected official.

As someone who interviews college applicants every fall for my own alma mater, Johns Hopkins, I know how pressing the issue of financial aid has always been, and it’s more important now than ever. I believe Rep. Johnson owes an apology to every single student who applied for the CBCF scholarship over the last five years – a personal letter to each one who did not receive the scholarship funds she gave to her own grandchildren. And she owes an apology to each student in the Dallas area who didn’t even realize that the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship existed, because she did not do anything to publicize this opportunity. If you read the WSJ’s account, you will see that the Director of Counseling Services for the Dallas Independent School District had no idea that the CBCF offered such a scholarship.

Trust in politicians is at an all-time low, and it’s not hard to understand why. They don’t seem to be doing themselves any favors!

For some unknown reason, Rep. Johnson agreed to a live on-air telephone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. She should fire her communications director for scheduling this interview. Take a listen:

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