Clyburn Responds to Erroneous Sun News Report

Jun 16, 2008

(Columbia, S.C.) – House Majority Whip and Sixth District Congressman James E. Clyburn issued the following statement in response to the erroneous report in Sunday’s Myrtle Beach Sun News.

“I strongly dispute the claims made in the Sun News article from Sunday—claims that have been refuted before and are being rehashed again. The projects referenced in this piece all relate to community projects or local agencies, from which I have received a request for funding. None of them financially benefit family or friends.

“Should I deny a request from the City of Columbia for funding to the Drew Wellness Center to combat childhood obesity because my daughter ran the membership program there at one time? Should I deny a request from the South Sumter Resource Center for assistance to at-risk youth because my brother was once employed by a different youth program and my sister-in-law happens to work in the same building at a separate agency?

“Every earmark request I make must be accompanied by a statement that says, “I certify that neither I nor my spouse has any financial interest in this project.” I take that pledge seriously and vet each earmark for any improper connection to friends or family members. I have never requested funds for any airport in Georgia or anywhere outside the state of South Carolina. I resigned from the board of the International African American Museum when the museum’s designer subcontracted a New Mexico architecture firm which subsequently hired my nephew for the project. But I will not stop working with the State Department of Transportation to provide federal dollars to South Carolina because my son-in-law is employed by the highway department. Nor will I stop working with state and local government because a cousin or relative might work for the agency or entity.

“Accountability and transparency are important in government. That’s why the New Democratic majority has dramatically reformed the earmarking process after Republicans abused the system for over a decade and let earmarks multiply in size. We put in place a structure that calls for new transparency, accountability and disclosure, and we have reduced the total dollar amount earmarked in appropriations bills by 43 percent.

“I will continue to defend earmarks as an important part of my job as Representative for the 6th Congressional District of South Carolina. Banning all earmarks as my critics would like to do, would put federal funding in the hands of Washington bureaucrats—many of whom have never been to South Carolina, let-alone the rural counties and communities I represent. These are communities which were systematically denied state and federal resources for decades. I believe as their Representative my work should be transparent and open, so it can be held up to public scrutiny. If the projects I have funded don’t meet with their approval, voters may speak their mind every two years in November. To me, that’s true accountability.

“My larger concern is that my detractors at Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) aren’t being fully transparent themselves. St. Petersburg Times, The Washington Post and others have investigated CAGW and found that they are a partisan front group for John McCain and other special interests. The group’s fundraising arm has donated $11,000 in cash to McCain or one of his PAC’s since 2004, which is 20 times the contribution it has made to other candidates. The group has played an active role in a campaign to defend McCain from attacks against his stance on the Air Force’s decision to award a lucrative tanker contract to Northrop Grumman and a European partner. CAGW has also received funding to lobby on behalf of Mexican avocado growers, a health club association and a major liquor company. What do these issues have to do with government waste? I’m curious.”
 

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Setting the Record Straight
Facts versus Fiction in Myrtle Beach Sun News Report

Distorted Claim: “Citizens Against Government Waste - a nonprofit, nonpartisan group which aims to eliminate waste and mismanagement in the federal government - named Clyburn as Porker of the Month in November because he inserted a $3 million earmark into a military spending bill for the First Tee nonprofit agency. First Tee operates a program at a Columbia golf course named after the congressman.”

FACTS: The earmark funds the First Tee program at military facilities. Currently the program excludes children of military families. No funds are under this earmark are designated for the Columbia golf course named after the Congressman. The First Tee program made the request for this project.

Distorted Claim: “Clyburn called his opponents hypocritical and intolerant when he was criticized in 2003 for getting $3.3 million in federal funds for a pedestrian crosswalk - named after him - that allows for easier access to a disadvantaged neighborhood in Columbia.

“[Leslie Paige, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste] said that response is typical whenever earmarks are questioned.

"We're told by members of Congress that we should just trust them because they know what is best for their districts and what their constituents need," she said. "But what they are really doing is funneling money to cronies and family members."

FACTS: Several people, including a seven-year-old girl, were killed trying to cross the highway where the pedestrian overpass was built. Funding for this project in no way benefits Congressman Clyburn, his family or friends. The funding was requested by the South Carolina Department of Transportation after an outcry by the local community. SCDOT named the project in the Congressman’s honor.

Distorted Claim: “There are at least four earmarks in this year's budget that could directly benefit Clyburn's friends and family members.

“The largest earmark is $784,000 for the planning and design of the International African American Museum in Charleston. Clyburn's nephew, Derrick Ballard, is one of the lead architects on that project.”

FACTS: Congressman Clyburn served as the Chair of the International African American Museum board since its inception, and remains passionate about the project even after stepping off the board this year.

The Congressman’s nephew, Derrick Ballard, works for a subcontractor of the design team Moody Nolan Predock that was hired to design the museum. Congressman Clyburn didn’t participate in the hiring of the design team, and no one who participated in that selection process was aware the Congressman’s nephew works for a subcontractor of the selected team. Congressman Clyburn resigned from the board when the design team was selected because he didn’t want there to be any perceptions of conflicts of interest associated with this project.

The funding request was made by the City of Charleston.

Distorted Claim: “This is the second time Clyburn has appropriated money for a project in which Ballard was to be an architect.

“Clyburn in 2005 earmarked $145,500 for a community center that was supposed to be built by Five Rivers Community Development Corp., a Georgetown nonprofit agency whose executives now are facing 15 felony charges that they stole public money.”

FACTS: This money was never drawn down. Senator Hollings had previously secured a $1 million earmark for this project. Congressman Clyburn was unaware that his nephew was the architect on the project. This funding request was made by Georgetown County Council for the purchase of the land, and when they couldn’t acquire the right of way for the property, the money was never utilized.

Distorted Claim: “Clyburn also set aside $229,000 in this year's budget for an obesity program at the Charles R. Drew Wellness Center in Columbia, where his daughter, Angela, is the marketing and membership director.

“Clyburn also earmarked $990,000 for construction of the city-owned wellness center in 2003.”

FACTS: Angela Clyburn, as marketing coordinator at the Drew Wellness Center, has no connection with the youth obesity program funded by Congressman Clyburn. She builds membership at the facility, while the program funded, Fun to be Fit!, provides education and training to improve nutrition and increase physical activity for children between the ages of 6-13. The two are completely unrelated.

Congressman Clyburn has been a huge proponent of the Drew Wellness Center since he helped secure the HOPE VI funding in 1999 to revitalize a former public housing development that included Drew Park in Columbia. Angela Clyburn secured the job at Drew Wellness without her father’s knowledge in 2006, and this is her last week on the job.

The funding request was made by the City of Columbia.

Distorted Claim: “Clyburn appropriated $282,000 this year for the South Sumter Resource Center in Sumter, an umbrella group that offers housing and at-risk youth programs.

“Clyburn's sister-in-law, Gwendolyn Clyburn, is housing coordinator for the Sumter County Community Development Corp., which is part of the center.
“His brother, Charles Clyburn, previously was a trainer for the center's YouthBuild program.

“This year's earmark is in addition to $670,000 that Clyburn appropriated for the resource center between 2001 and 2007.”

FACTS: The South Sumter Resource Center and the Sumter County CDC are two separate organizations. The CDC, which employs Gwendolyn Clyburn, has never received any earmarks. She can in no way benefit from any funding the Congressman secured for the South Sumter Resource Center.

The $282,000 earmark for South Sumter Resource Center is for a program called VISA that assists expelled students in Sumter school districts 2 & 17. It is in no way connected with the YouthBuild program, which employed Charles Clyburn in 2006 as a construction trainer. Charles Clyburn is a carpenter by trade. The South Sumter Resource Center was awarded a competitive YouthBuild grant by the U.S.

Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Charles Clyburn was hired to do work under that program. The program under which Charles Clyburn was hired has no connection to any of the earmarks secured by Congressman Clyburn for the South Sumter Resource Center.

The 2001-2007 earmarks were for the renovations of the center. Neither Charles nor Gwendolyn Clyburn had any connection with or benefit from this project. The funding request made by the South Sumter Resource Center.

False Claim: “Clyburn has earmarked money for at least one project in another state that benefited a family member.

“In 2005, he earmarked $2.5 million for an airport terminal expansion in Augusta, Ga."

William Clyburn Jr., the congressman's cousin, was the chief lobbyist for the airport project and received $60,000 from consulting firms after the federal dollars were in hand.

“William Clyburn initially said he asked his cousin to include the earmark in that year's budget bill, but he reversed that statement two months later when a spokesman for James Clyburn disputed the lobbyist's remarks, according to newspaper accounts.”

FACTS: Congressman Clyburn did not secure funding for this project. Rep. John Barrow secured this funding for the airport and took credit for the work in a press release from November 18, 2005 (attached below).

Barrow Press Release

 

“Securing additional funding for this airport project has been one of my top priorities in Congress,” Barrow said. “This is not a ‘bridge to nowhere’ – this is a terminal for Augusta’s future. As the area grows, the airport will now be able to grow with it. And when the terminal is complete, it’ll be a huge boost for the area’s economy.”

The Senate is expected to approve the Conference Report later this year. After passing both chambers, it will then head to the President’s desk, where it is anticipated that he will sign it.

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False Claim: “Clyburn previously appropriated a combined $1.3 million in 2003 and 2004 for a transportation center for Horry County's mass-transit agency, which used to go by the name Lymo.”

FACTS: Congressman Clyburn never requested or received funding for this project.