As I’ve covered previously, Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat who’s held one office or another for the past 30 years, is facing federal charges for bribery and fraud related to a full scholarship to and paid professorship at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work awarded to his son, allegedly in exchange for Ridley-Thomas steering millions of dollars in county contracts to the school. The school’s former dean, Marilyn Flynn, has also been indicted, and both are set to go to trial in November.
Another long-time Los Angeles Democrat politician — Rep. Karen Bass — also received the same type of scholarship, and also used her elected office to attempt to steer big money to USC by sponsoring 2014’s Child Welfare Workforce Partnership Act, which would have given private universities the ability to receive federal reimbursements for training social workers that were previously limited to public universities. In an email to colleagues reviewed by the Los Angeles Times discussing the possibility of Sebastian Ridley-Thomas obtaining a scholarship for a joint degree from both the Social Work and Public Policy schools, Flynn referred to the arrangement with Bass, saying, “We will offer a full scholarship between the two schools. I did the same for Karen Bass — full scholarship for our funds.”
Unlike Ridley-Thomas, though, Bass hasn’t been indicted. In fact, she’s not even under investigation, according to federal prosecutors. Prosecutors do, however, want to talk about Bass’s “relationship with USC” during Flynn and Ridley-Thomas’ trial as a way of showing a pattern of corruption in the program.
By awarding free tuition to Bass in 2011, Flynn hoped to obtain the congresswoman’s assistance in passing coveted legislation, prosecutors wrote in a July court filing. Bass later sponsored a bill in Congress that would have expanded USC’s and other private universities’ access to federal funding for social work — “just as defendant Flynn wanted,” the filing states.
According to the LA Times, Bass’s name is redacted in the court filings but Times reporters were able to confirm her identity “through case records, people familiar with the matter and some copies of emails that were briefly filed in court this summer and later redacted.”
Many in Los Angeles aren’t aware of the gifted degree, and that’s not an accident. In addition to the redaction in the DOJ filings (which they say is DOJ policy), Bass didn’t list the scholarship gift on her financial disclosures until 2019. Bass blames that on a former staffer, of course.
Like Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Karen Bass didn’t go through USC’s normal graduate school admission procedure, nor did she have to compete for the unpublicized scholarship. In Bass’s case, though, she didn’t even have to approach USC about entering the School of Social Work’s program. According to the LA Times, “Flynn apparently made the decision to admit her after learning of her interest in getting a graduate degree.”
Bass was able to secure an exception to the rule prohibiting gifts to members of Congress, despite the House Committee on Ethics concluding in 2021 that “the scholarship was ‘clearly’ a gift, and Bass’ status as a congresswoman was a factor in her receiving it” because she convinced committee members that “the graduate degree would deepen her knowledge of child welfare policy and help her better represent constituents,” making the gift “an unusual case.”
Well, then, let’s just allow all universities located within a member’s district to gift them scholarships in public policy or public health or education and still allow them to sponsor/vote on legislation that would put millions of dollars into university coffers. Seems totally legitimate.
The fact that Bass’s sponsored legislation failed to become law doesn’t make her actions any less reprehensible or corrupt. She, too, should be facing at least an investigation into her dealings with USC and whether any gifts made their way to the school at her behest.