N.C. Black Caucus' Foundation's Scholarship Fund Recipients Raises Financial Questions
(06/28/07 -- RALEIGH) (WTVD) -- Scholarships funded by money from corporations and political action committees is helping pay for some state lawmakers' own relatives to go to college.
Larry Womble is a member of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, a group of black lawmakers in the General Assembly.
In May, the new chair of the Black Caucus Alma Adams ordered an audit of the Caucus' foundation.
Because the Foundation is a type of federal tax exempt group called a 501(c)3 organization, donors to the Foundation do not have to be disclosed.
But an Eyewitness News analysis of the State Board of Elections website reveals donors to the fund included other politicians, political action committees and corporations like Eli Lilly.
According to Federal tax documents filed by the Caucus, the Caucus's foundation issues scholarships to help students around the state attend college. The foundation also provides support for community events and seminars around the state.
According to the Winston Salem State University Financial Aid Office, for the past two years Representative Womble's son, Jamaal Womble, has received one of those scholarships. For the 2005-2006 school year, Womble received $1000 from the foundation. In 2006-2007, he received $500.
Womble is not the only relative of a member of the caucus to receive a scholarship to attend Winston Salem State University. Winston Salem State University's Financial Aid Office also stated that Shalonda Ingram received a $1000 scholarship for the 2005-2006 school year and a $500 scholarship in the 2006-2007 school year. In a November 2002 picture, in the Winston Salem Journal, Ingram is shown hugging Representative Earline Parmon with the caption, "granddaughter Shalonda Ingram".
Representatives Womble, Adams and Parmon all declined to comment for our story.
Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield told the Charlotte Observer her daughter Lenai also received a scholarship from the caucus to attend North Carolina Central University. She added her daughter made an equal contribution to the foundation recently. She also declined comment for this story.
Member of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus Rep. Mickey Michaux says the scholarships went to deserving students.
"What's there a problem about?" says Rep. Michaux. He continues, "If a person earns a scholarship, regardless of who they are, aren't they entitled to that scholarship?"
Chair of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus Alma Adams declined to comment but issued a statement about the scholarships saying in part, "The Foundation provided scholarships totaling approximately $28,000 in 2005 and $26,000 in 2006. Roughly one-tenth of the total scholarship funds provided during these years benefited relatives of five legislators. 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." Questions about the Foundation's financial grants
In addition to the recipients of the scholarships, the total amount delivered to the schools by the NC Legislative Black Caucus' Foundation is unclear.
According to the Foundation's 2004 Federal tax documents, the foundation gave $7000 to eleven different North Carolina Schools for scholarships totaling $77,000.
However, according to emails obtained by Eyewitness News from at least three Universities, the amounts of scholarships received by the schools appear to have been far less than $7000 per school.
A Winston Salem State University Scholarship Officer has no record of granting any scholarships on behalf of the Caucus in 2004. According to their records, the University received money from the Foundation in the 2000-2001 school years, 2003, 2005-2006 school years and in 2006-2007
When EWN contacted Fayetteville State University, the school could only find scholarship recipients from the 2006-2007 school year.
In an e-mail response, Jeffery Womble, Director of Public Relations for Fayetteville State University told EWN they contacted the Caucus for more extensive records of scholarships. According to the email, the Caucus told FSU's financial aid director, 'they had no records of FSU having received scholarships other than those I have provided you below."
This is seemingly in contradiction to their 2004 tax return which claims the Caucus granted $7000 to Fayetteville State University for scholarships.
Former Democratic consultant Joe Sinsheimer says the Caucus should open its books and disclose all of the fund's transactions.
"The hypocrisy of the House Democratic Caucus has no limit. For more than two decades, the Democratic Party has made college affordability a cornerstone of both its state and national campaign platforms. The recent actions of the Legislative Black Caucus in raising special interest dollars to pay for their own children and grandchildren's college tuition betrays the Democratic Party's most fundamental ideals and are an insult to every North Carolina family struggling to pay college tuition," wrote Sinsheimer.
In the statement released today, Caucus Chair Rep. Alma Adams wrote that the foundation has provided $12,000 in scholarships in 2007 and that none of the scholarships were awarded to relatives of legislators. She also wrote the Caucus is reviewing the guidelines awarding scholarships.
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