Karen Bass Got Ethics Waiver To Receive USC Scholarship


During Representative Karen Bass’s first year in Congress in 2011, she reached out to government ethics officials with a request: could she accept a full scholarship for a graduate degree at USC.

The House Ethics Committee approved Bass’s request to accept the price of USC School of Social Work tuition, ultimately valued at over $ 95,000.

Bass, the Los Angeles Democrat, has often discussed how she juggled the demands of an online master’s degree program during her first three terms in Congress. She graduated in 2015 and credits the USC program for deepening her understanding of child welfare policy and helping her become a national advocate for youth in foster care.

The way she got the scholarship provides a window into USC’s efforts to forge connections with local politicians, a practice that is now under further scrutiny.

The private university was by far the largest employer in Bass’s Congressional District, which stretches from downtown Los Angeles to the Westside.

Some of his classes were supervised by a prominent campaign donor who was also a professor at USC at the time. And USC School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Flynn offered Bass the scholarship even though she had not directly applied to the social work program, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Times.

Federal prosecutors indicted Flynn last month, alleging she provided a full scholarship and teaching position in 2017 and 2018 to the son of then county supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in exchange for government contracts attributed to the university.

Bass has not been charged with any wrongdoing relating to the stock market. She is now one of the top contenders in the LA mayoral race.

Although Bass has met with leaders of USC, including visits by Trustees and Trustees to Capitol Hill and events at her South LA campus, she pointed out in a recent interview that she had no legislation to benefit the university.

Bass said the House Ethics Committee approved the scholarship because the committee understood it would help him do his job. Obtaining the graduate degree “would help me be a congressman focused on a policy area that has impacted young people in my district and across the country,” Bass said.

USC’s press office told The Times the social work program was under “new leadership” and could not address “what policies and procedures were in place at the School of Social Work 10 years ago.” .

Flynn’s defense attorney Vicki Podberesky declined to comment on the scholarship to Bass or how it happened. Flynn and Ridley-Thomas, the now suspended LA city council member, have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

The full value of Bass’s scholarship was not listed on his Congressional Disclosure Forms until 2019, when the multi-year forms were changed and a total of over $ 80,000 in tuition fees. Free has been added to its giveaway disclosures. Bass attributed the errors to his former chief of staff, noting that they were discovered during an audit by his lawyer.

A 2011 letter from the House Committee on Ethics to Bass offers insight into what led USC to provide the full scholarship. While reviewing the gift waiver request, officials gathered information from Flynn and Bass.

Flynn said she personally decided to award the scholarship to Bass, according to the letter.

The dean admitted at the time that the full package like the one offered to Bass had not been made public to students. The scholarships advertised to students online required an application process, had formal requirements, and were generally less generous. Flynn said the free Bass lessons were offered to those “who have demonstrated exceptional potential to contribute in the field,” according to the committee’s letter.

Bass was a “worthy recipient” of a scholarship, Flynn told officials, due to her work in foster care and “obvious leadership skills.”

House ethics officials ultimately concluded that while the scholarship was “clearly” a gift – which lawmakers are widely prohibited from accepting – it was “an unusual case” for an exception or waiver.

Bass said in the interview that she first applied for a Masters of Public Administration at the university, but gave up on that idea when she realized she had to pay the tuition for herself. same. As a former clinical instructor and medical assistant whose involvement with USC dates back to the early 1980s, Bass said, she mistakenly thought she would have free access to classes.

Flynn learned about Bass’s interest in graduate school and approached her about a joint master’s degree in social work and public administration. The online course – which she often took at night, on weekends, and on flights to and from Washington, DC, the congresswoman said – gave Bass a chance to dig deeper into a topic. which had been close to her heart for a long time, first as a community organizer and later as a member of the State.

“One of the things everyone in the world knew and knows about me is that my focus is on foster care,” Bass said, explaining why Flynn probably approached her. “And that I wanted to make it a top issue. I did it in Sacramento, I had planned to do it in DC “

“I found it to be extremely useful – a good use of my time,” she said of her upbringing.

Her course topics included social service policy, social protection, and child abuse intervention and treatment, and she earned a cumulative grade point average of 3.95, according to a copy of her transcript provided by his campaign.

R. Paul Maiden, the now retired associate dean of the USC School of Social Work, described Bass as a “sharp student” and “dedicated, especially to child protection issues.”

There were some unusual aspects to Bass’s graduate degree. Bass acknowledged that “some things I did in Congress” also constituted work for his field internship. His campaign said the fieldwork was overseen by Dr Wendy Smith Meyer, who, according to records, is also a major donor to Bass.

Smith Meyer, then a social work professor at USC and also married to the former president of Warner Bros. Barry Meyer, first contributed to the Bass State Assembly campaign in 2007. In addition to his involvement in the USC Bass studies, Smith Meyer has donated tens of thousands of dollars to support the MP and she became a founding member of the board of directors of the National Foster Youth Institute, a Bass non-profit organization launched in 2012.

This month, Smith Meyer and her husband were scheduled to organize a fundraiser in support of Bass’s mayoral bid, Variety reported. Smith Meyer did not respond to requests for comment.

While Bass was enrolled in USC and after graduating, she met with college leaders and professors and spoke on campus. In 2014, she met then USC president CL Max Nikias and some of the directors when they visited Capitol Hill, according to social media. She spoke to donors to Schools of Social Work at an event in 2015, spoke at an event in 2016 with university leaders commemorating the progress of USC village construction, and has often lectured to students of social work and public policy.

In the recent interview, Bass compared her support for USC to that she provided to other local universities, including UCLA, Cal State LA and Cal State Dominguez Hills. She said their leaders walk around Capitol Hill every year to see her and other lawmakers.

“They meet with us every year, and we generally support what they ask for, which is part of a huge supply bill,” Bass said.

At least one piece of legislation Bass wrote comes from a social work professor at USC.

Paul Carlo, who is now retired from USC, told The Times in an email he wrote to Bass and asked him to explain how the federal government distributed funds for training and l education in social work. A change imposed around 1995 had prevented state and local governments from obtaining federal reimbursement for training professional social workers through partnerships with about two dozen private universities offering social work programs, including USC.

Carlo wanted the law changed to allow private and public universities to be considered for federal reimbursement.

“There has been no direct impact on USC,” said Carlo, who said his request to Bass was made as an “independent child protection advocate” and not as a representative of the university.

Carlo’s letter to Bass led him to introduce the Child Welfare Workforce Partnership Act in July 2014. The bill has never been put to a vote and no similar legislation has been proposed since. The Times could not find evidence that the USC lobbying office ever took any action to support the bill.

“I was very disappointed when nothing was accomplished,” Carlo said in an email.

Many local politicians have ties to USC, often as alumni, and the university has become a frequent destination after leaving office.

Kevin de León, a rival to Bass in the mayoral race, accepted a scholarship to the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy after completing his term in the California State Senate. Its financial disclosures show that the stock market paid over $ 100,000 over a two-year period. After leaving office, former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa became a part-time professor at USC Price School of Public Policy.

Additionally, Rick Caruso, the billionaire developer who is the current chairman of the USC board, said he was still deciding whether to participate in the mayoral race – a decision which would put him in a crowded contest to succeed Eric Garcetti.

Former Los Angeles city councilor Bernard Parks said he was not surprised to learn that Bass received the scholarship.

“It’s their story,” said Parks, a USC alumnus who for years represented the municipal district which included the university. “They’re using their influence on the people they think will help them now and in the future.”

When asked about the scholarship awarded to Bass, the university said in a statement that it “was reviewing its policies to see if they could be further tightened to avoid any perceived conflict of interest.”

Times editors Harriet Ryan and James Rainey contributed to this report.


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