Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 5, 2007

It’s a clear conflict of interest when relatives of lawmakers in the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus receive scholarships from a nonprofit foundation run by the caucus.
While the students may well have been deserving in their own right, that isn’t the point. It suggests that legislative connections, rather than an objective selection process based on merit, had something to do with some scholarships, and it raises the smelly prospect of politicians using their positions to benefit family members.
In light of the disclosure that scholarships had gone to relatives of five members of the caucus, the foundation will review the way it hands out educational grants and seek guidance from the state ethics commission. That’s well and good, but there’s a lingering question about the degree of disclosure that should be required of non-profit foundations that don’t function as political action committees, and hence fall outside the boundaries of the State Board of Elections. Legally, the caucus isn’t required to reveal who finances its foundation, although published reports have identified the Duke Energy Foundation as one donor. In an atmosphere where legislators have vowed to work for more transparency in the nexus between legislating and lobbying, it would behoove them to require more disclosure where legislative groups are engaged in fund-raising for non-profit foundations. In this case, caucus members get donations for the foundation by soliciting corporations, lobbyists and PACs. That may not invite abuse, but it certainly raises questions about undue influence and the appearance of impropriety.
Given the recent scandals involving lawmakers, lobbyists and ethical lapses, this would appear to be another area that needs further review. Anytime legislators are out raising funds, the public has an interest in knowing where the money’s coming from and where it’s going.