Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., the 11-term congressman who’s been a constant figure in the edu-policy world, was indicted Wednesday on racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, and bribery charges.
Among other things, Fattah, who is on the House Appropriations Committee, is charged with using federal funds from an education nonprofit that he founded to help repay an unreported $1 million campaign donation. (The federal funds in question came from a congressional earmark.)
Here’s what Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jeremy Roebuck dug up in the court documents:
The plan involved diverting more than $600,000 in federal grant funds from the Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA), a nonprofit founded by the congressman to grant scholarships and backed by several million dollars in congressional earmarks, to two for-profit firms through a series of fake contracts. The first of those companies, described by prosecutors as a "public policy technology company" run by the spouse of a Fattah staffer, submitted a bid to provide EAA with software and indicated the work would require "substantial up-front funding," court documents said. The second, the consulting firm owned by the Washington strategist, contracted with the technology company for "developmental income" and "marketing expenses." When the technology company's chief financial officer questioned what his firm was getting out of its contract with the strategist, the documents say, the company's owner replied: "Influence and political connections." Prosecutors say neither company did any work to earn that government money. Even as Department of Justice auditors began to question how EAA had spent its grant money in late 2008, the strategist's firm was wiring it to pay back Fattah's original $1 million campaign debt."
The news broke after a long-time aide to Fattah pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to concealing the misuse of funds.
That aide also admitted that he helped funnel $23,000 from Fattah’s congressional and (failed) mayoral campaigns to repay a student-loan debt for his son, Roebuck reported.
Fattah, who was previously a member of the House education committee, has long been involved in education issues on the Hill. In fact, he wrote a commentary for Education Week back in 1998 in which he pushed a bill he authored that would have defined equal educational opportunity as a covered right under the 14th Amendment.
More recently, he’s pushed hard for legislation that would require states to equalize educational resources in several areas, including teacher quality and class size. He’s also introduced a resolution championing the Common Core State Standards.
Despite the corruption charges—29 in total—Fattah declared his innocence and is still planning to run for reelection.