U. S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, is one of the nation’s foremost practitioners of old-style cronyism and race-based politics. But even though her current bid for a tenth term has drawn the notice of both Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, most Americans have never heard of her. That should change.
Like her colleagues in the Black Congressional Caucus, Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel, Rep. Johnson has landed in some ethics trouble. Specifically, Ms. Johnson awarded thousands of dollars in college scholarships to four of her own relatives and to a top aide’s two children since 2005.
It’s not taxpayer money; the funds come from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which is supported by private and corporate donations. Each year, each member of the caucus gets $10,000 to dole out for the scholarships. The foundation has strict anti-nepotism rules—which Ms. Johnson violated.
“Unknowingly,” she said at first when the Dallas Morning News began reporting on the matter. That was in late August. By late September she had repaid the non-profit foundation $31,146, and she was carefully parsing what she did and didn’t know. She said she did not sign a letter to the foundation asking that the scholarship money be sent directly to her relatives.
But there WERE letters—and they DID have her signature. She contends someone else in her office signed them, but she says she doesn’t know who the signer was. She also says she did not sign a document saying the applicants were not related to her. But she admits that she knew all along that her relatives were getting the benefits: “I knew it,” she said. “I knew it. There was no rule against it.”
Her reasoning? The nepotism rule was established years after the program began and no one told her that the rules had changed.
It’s a painful rationalization from a woman who has made politics work for herself for decades. Even though she is in the bottom quarter of House members based on wealth, she draws a pretty sum. She reports annual income of $22,000 per year from Social Security, a $35,000 pension from Texas taxpayers for her years in the State Legislature, and her annual salary of $174,000 for being in the Congress.
And that’s not all. She also reports income from a blind trust that owns newsstand concessions at Dallas Love Field, the in-town airport, and at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. This is where the racial politics comes in.
Wick Allison who owns the Dallas city magazine, “D,” posted a message on the magazine’s blog explaining how the airport concession scheme works in Dallas. First, you have to be black or Hispanic. Second, you have to have big-time political connections—big enough to get on a list of recommended “partners” for concessionaires that goes to the people who run Dallas-Fort Worth Airport—the nation’s second busiest.
According to Allison: “Every store you see at DFW, every restaurant, every bar, has a local minority ‘partner.’ These partners normally contribute nothing—not money, not expertise, not nothing. What they provide is the pretense that DFW Airport is encouraging minority business development.” As Allison puts it, the situation at both airports is a sham that has devolved into a shakedown.
What about Dallas Love Field? Rep. Johnson, who sits on the House Subcommittee on Aviation, has a blind trust that owns 15% of the Hudson News Love Field concession.
At Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Rep. Johnson’s dealings are even more extensive. The airport has an “ethics line,” and an anonymous caller has been using it to blow the whistle on what he termed “inappropriate” circumstances. It seems that Johnson has a 25% interest in two Hudson newsstands at DFW. But (again) that’s not all. DFW Airport has a vice president named Don O’Bannon, who is the head of minority contracting. His job is to oversee the racial spoils system—including the holdings of Johnson. In 2007, she approved the awarding of a $1,000 scholarship to O’Bannon’s daughter. O’Bannon, by the way, lives in a $325,000 home and sent his daughter to the exclusive Hockaday School for girls, and then on to Dartmouth where she is now a student.
O’Bannon is now on official leave pending an investigation. And Rep. Johnson’s office says there will be no more responses to the scholarship situation.
This is the kind of congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson has become. Her seat is “safe” and she knows it. She knows that funneling cash to her own relatives and to the children of her associates is not going to cost her that seat any more than her racial shenanigans regarding airport concessions. Or her triple dipping into taxpayers’ money.
Johnson’s opponent is a 58-year-old born-again pastor of a small Dallas church who was once a follower of Malcolm X—but had a political conversion in 1980. Stephen Broden cast his first Republican ballot for Ronald Reagan that year, and today, he is a Tea Party favorite who rips Barack Obama and is a mainstay of the right-to-life movement.
Broden has made multiple appearances on the “Glenn Beck Show” on Fox News and has received the endorsement of Sarah Palin. But those things likely won’t be enough to get him elected.
When Eddie Bernice Johnson was in the Texas Senate, she played a key role in shaping the 30th Congressional district that she now represents—designing it specifically for an African-American liberal. That it is extremely “safe”—no matter how unethical she becomes—says as much about her constituents as it does about her prowess at gerrymandering.