Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, responded to a Signal story reporting his children received a total of $50,000 for college from The Spirit Educational Foundation established by Santa Clarita developer Larry Rasmussen and his wife Peggy.
Wilk declined to be interviewed for the story, but issued a statement that said the scholarships totaling $50,000 awarded to Scott T. Wilk Jr. and Alison Wilk were based on merit.
“The scholarships were awarded to my children based on their academic and extracurricular achievements while in school. They went through a thorough application process and participated in a formal interview before receiving their scholarships. I had no influence on their selection for these awards,” the statement said. “Since I have been an elected official the Rasmussens have had no business before me in any capacity.”
The statement added: “Vanessa and I are the proud parents of two great kids. They know the value of hard work and have each done their best to overcome life’s challenges and achieve their goals.”
Jay Wieringa, communications director for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said Monday no complaint had been filed against the foundation and that the statute of limitations for a complaint is five years. Wieringa previously told The Signal a public official’s child can accept a scholarship if the process is fair and open.
Scholarships would be considered gifts to the official if there was no previous relationship between the donor and the official’s child, the donor has had business with the official’s agency or has lobbied the agency, according to FPPC regulations.
Calls to the Internal Revenue Service, which oversees 115,000 registered nonprofit businesses and foundations in California along with the state attorney general, were not returned.
Scott T. Wilk Jr., received $15,000 total in 2007 and 2008 while attending Redlands University, according to the foundation’s tax returns. Alison Wilk received a total of $35,000 from 2007 to 2011 while attending Life Pacific College, a Christian school in San Dimas.
Scott Wilk Jr. previously told The Signal he interviewed for the Rasmussens’ scholarship probably in 2003 and graduated from high school a year later. He said he did not recall how he heard about the scholarship and did not know he would receive any money before going into the interview.
Requests for comment from Wilk Jr. were not returned.
The foundation was launched by the Rasmussens in 2007 with $100,000 as the initial investment. Requirements for students included a 2.0 grade average, or a “C,” to apply.
Wilk was appointed to the College of the Canyons Community College District governing board by the other trustees to fill a vacancy in August 2006. He was elected to the state Assembly in 2012.
Gifts to public officials from a single source were limited to $390 annually at the time. The limit is now at $470.
Foundation tax returns showed other students that received college aid were: Seth Mandel Winger, son of former Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger; MacKenzie Wrage, the daughter of John “Randy” Wrage, who works for Larry Rasmussen, and Audrey Sohikian, whose father, Arthur, is president of lobbying firm AVS Consulting.
Despite being formed in 2007, the foundation had not been heard of by officials at William S. Hart Union High School District nor College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne G. Van Hook, according to a previous report in The Signal.
IRS rules would limit a couple to giving $30,000 annually to a single person tax-free. However, when a foundation is created, the money given to the foundation officially belongs to the state, and the foundation must follow certain rules.