When the mighty tumble off the top of the mountain, yelps of pain and bewilderment emit as the ego bounces off rocks and outcroppings. It is a peculiar sight to behold, and one that often affects those who previously seemed invincible. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) is currently experiencing a freefall after an accusation that she retaliated against a staffer who cried rape has come to light – in criminal complaint form. Lee announced her resignation as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), as a result of the scandal.
A woman known as “Jane Doe,” in a gruesomely detailed lawsuit, claims that in 2015, at the age of 19, she was raped by a CBCF employee. She describes her position as an intern and alleges that her attacker was Damien Jones, coordinator of the organization’s intern program. At the time, Lee was not the chair of the foundation.
After Lee took leadership of the caucus in 2017, Jane Doe accepted a job with her as an office gopher of sorts, charged with driving the congresswoman, drafting and responding to emails, charging electronics, and supervising social media. But in one casual text exchange on Lee’s phone, a message from a CBCF executive ominously appeared: “I just received a notification that you [Representative Jackson Lee] have a new staffer, [Jane Doe’s name]. Call me, I have background on her.”
Within weeks, Doe was out. And all seemed quiet until she filed her lawsuit, naming Lee and the CBCF as defendants.
The Unexpected #MeToo Recipient
The avalanche of unintended consequences began when the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence distanced themselves from Lee as lead sponsor of legislation reauthorizing the federal Violence Against Women Act. They went on to concede that Lee had been an ally in the past, but it “unequivocally supports Jane Doe” in her legal battle with the congresswoman. Ouch.
…when hypocrisy meets karma, face to face, in real time.
Lee’s term as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus was summarily interrupted as board members gave the ultimatum: Resign or be removed. She has also agreed to “voluntarily and temporarily step back,” according to House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Lee was in line to become chair of the Judiciary Committee’s crime, terrorism, and homeland security subcommittee – and no politician scales back powerful positions of their own accord. But Nadler was quick to cover both their bases, saying, “This decision does not suggest any culpability by Rep. Jackson Lee.”
Birds of a Feather
As nefarious organizations go, the CBCF appears to be one of the most slippery when it comes to committing dastardly deeds in the name of progressing black folks forward. Although their mission and vision project good vibes “to advance the global black community by developing leaders, informing policy, and educating the public,” it’s hard to accomplish that when the funds raised go to parties and not scholarship recipients. In 2008, NYT dug into the financial records of the CBCF and found that out of multiple millions of dollars in funds raised by corporations and individual donors, few people received any assistance for higher education.
Tax records revealed the foundation spent more on the caterer for its signature legislative dinner and conference – nearly $700,000 for an event nicknamed “Hollywood on the Potomac” – than it gave in scholarships.
In 2010, Representative Eddie Johnson (D-TX) was found to have awarded thousands to her relatives, snubbing the rules of her own organization.
The list is lengthy, but the gist is the same: These people appear to believe they are above the law. But Jane Doe might be the person to take down the social club disguised as a charitable foundation for people of color.
Lee’s office toes the party line: “The congresswoman is confident that, once all of the facts come to light, her office will be exonerated of any retaliatory or otherwise improper conduct and this matter will be put to rest.” But a betting person would guess she is on the way out. Or perhaps Lee will become the example of what transpires when hypocrisy meets karma, face to face, in real time.