State News

Black Caucus Fund Acknowledges Giving to Lawmakers' Families

Posted June 28, 2007 1:36 p.m. EDT
Updated June 28, 2007 6:47 p.m. EDT

— The Legislative Black Caucus's nonprofit foundation acknowledged Thursday that it gave scholarship money to relatives of five lawmakers, and the group's leader said it will review the way it hands out educational grants.

A statement from Rep. Alma Adams, chairwoman of the 28-member black caucus, said the foundation gave out $54,000 in scholarships in the 2005 and 2006 academic years.

"Roughly one-tenth of the total scholarship funds provided during those years benefited relatives of five legislators," Adams, D-Guilford, said in a written statement.

"To the best of the foundation's knowledge, the scholarship funds benefited students with financial need and academic promise, and there was no intention to improperly benefit a legislator."

The statement by Adams didn't identify any of the five lawmakers, but she confirmed later Thursday that her daughter received one of the scholarships.

The son of Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, the daughter of Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, the granddaughter of Rep. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, and a relative of Rep. Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, also received scholarships.

The children of Womble and Farmer-Butterfield both received scholarships in the past three years.

Womble referred questions to Adams. Farmer-Butterfield said she followed the foundation's rules.

"The key thing is if the foundation had criteria that families of legislators couldn't apply," Farmer-Butterfield said last week. "We would've abided by that."

Adams said Thursday that the foundation "is reviewing its process for determining appropriate guidelines for awarding scholarships and making revisions to ensure the integrity of the process and the organization."

House Speaker Joe Hackney stopped short of calling the scholarships a conflict of interest.

"Their rules need some improvement, I think we would all say, and I think that improvement is coming," said Hackney, D-Orange.

Adams issued a statement Thursday afternoon, saying the scholarships are awarded based solely on financial need and academic promise.

"There was no intention to improperly benefit a legislator," the statement said. "The Foundation is reviewing its process and making revisions to ensure the intregrity of the process."

Some caucus members said they see no need for changes.

"What's improper about it if a person earns a scholarship, regardless of who they are? Aren't they entitled to that scholarship?" said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.

The scholarship flap had some calling for more oversight of foundations.

"If we're reporting campaign contributions and meals and gifts, then we also need to look at soliciting contributions for a favorite charity," said Bob Phillips, executive director of watchdog group North Carolina Common Cause.

Legislative Black Caucus members solicit donations for the foundation, turning to corporations, lobbyists and political action committees for money. That means that some corporate and PAC money went to the foundation, then helped legislators' families.

Adams had already ordered an audit of the foundation this year, calling it part of the normal course of business. She also halted fundraising, saying she wanted a decision from the state ethics commission on whether North Carolina's new ethics law would allow the caucus to raise money.

Louisa Warren, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said the foundation presented "a real appearance of a conflict of interest."

"There needs to be a very transparent process for how those students are selected and where that money comes from," Warren said. "Is it an arbitrary process? Is there an application process?"