WASHINGTON — Republicans are taking aim at Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop for helping direct thousands in Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship funds to the relatives of he and his wife, Vivian Creighton Bishop, staffers and a campaign donor.
The National Republican Congressional Committee criticized the seven scholarships Wednesday and accused the congressman of improperly using his influence for personal gain.
"A portrait of Congressman Bishop is emerging that should trouble Georgians of all political persuasions," said Andy Sere, an NRCC spokesman. "He has established what is now an indisputable pattern of self-serving behavior, abusing his power for personal and political gain. Many questions remain unanswered in this case — the answers to which could render this offense even more reprehensible than it already is — but one thing is clear: Sanford Bishop represents everything that is wrong with Washington."
The congressman's office countered that, according to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation rules, staffers' relatives were eligible for the funds since they are not relatives of Bishop.
"This is a further example of the Republican Party and the campaign (of November challenger Mike Keown) playing politics, trying to distract the voters while Congressman Bishop is trying to help people further their education," said Travis Worl, Bishop's re-election campaign manager. "None of the people named in this report are related to the congressman or Mrs. Bishop and were found to be qualified for the scholarships when they received them.
The criticism comes fresh on the heels of revelations that the congressman steered similar scholarship funds to relatives from 2003 to 2005, according to the nonprofit organization's internal records.
Bishop has said he has since repaid the foundation $6,350 for the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses Cheerios Brand Health Initiative Scholarship awarded to Aayesha Owens Reese, the congressman's stepdaughter, and Emmaundia Whitaker, his wife's niece. Whitaker received an additional scholarship in 2005.
Traditionally, the organization's congressional members are allotted $10,000 to give to students; individual scholarship amounts range from $1,000 to $2,000 and are awarded at the lawmaker's discretion, according to the organization.
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation officials said they are looking into the broader matter of lawmakers awarding scholarships to relatives in light of several similar incidents.
Bishop is also under fire for recently netting a $75,000 earmark for a historically black theater that once counted his wife among its supporters. The theater, which was the first black theaters in Columbus, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and reopened in 1996.
Gayle Daniels, the managing director of the Liberty Theater, said Vivian Creighton Bishop was involved in the initial efforts more than 14 years ago to reopen the playhouse but that the congressman's wife has not been involved with the theater in well over a decade.
"I've been with Liberty since May of 2000 and I've never even seen her at a meeting," Daniels said.