Lawmakers With Relatives on Payroll

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has come under fire for having his wife and daughter on his campign staff. The AP looked into it and found that several other Members are doing something similar.

Lawmakers With Relatives on Payroll

Lawmakers with relatives on their congressional or campaign staffs include:

_ House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas: Wife and daughter were paid more than $500,000 since 2001 for working for DeLay’s campaign and political action committees.

_ Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman: Son Matthew received about $34,000 and daughter Rebecca about $36,000 for working on the senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.

_ Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash.: Nephew Todd Reichert was paid $3,000 last year, plus several hundred dollars for mileage, for serving as driver.

_ California Democratic Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark: Wife Deborah earns $2,400 a month for serving as campaign consultant.

_ Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.: Wife Arlene Willis serves as congressional chief of staff at a salary of nearly $111,000.

_ Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.: Wife Laurie Stupak earned about $36,000 annually the past two years as the finance director for her husband’s campaign.

_ Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio: Wife Elizabeth was paid about $1,730 a month during his 2004 campaign. She has worked as a campaign consultant for him since the 2001 election cycle.

_ Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif.: Cousin Ken Costa made about $45,000 for serving as a co-campaign manager last year.

_ Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah: Three college-age children worked on his campaign last year. Emily was paid $5,425, Jane $9,508 and Laura $17,766.

_ Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn.: Sister-in-law Sharon Davis has been his campaign treasurer since 1994,and daughter Libby Davis was his campaign coordinator in the last half of 2004. Libby Davis was paid about $2,334 a month; Sharon Davis was paid about $1,000 a month for bookkeeping last year.

_ Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, employs his wife, Kathy, as his campaign manager. She was paid $21,791 over four months, including a $7,500 bonus last November.

_ New York Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop: Daughter Molly was paid $46,995 as his 2004 campaign’s finance director.

_ California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher: Wife Rhonda Carmony makes $40,000 a year as his campaign manager.

One could argue, though, that a difference in degree constitutes a difference in kind. The only case cited above even in the same ballpark is Rep. Jerry Lewis, who’s paying his wife $111,000 to serve as chief of staff. I will note, though, that the figures look out of kilter partly because different metrics are used: monthly salary, annual salary, and total compensation over the entire period. DeLay has paid $500,000 since 2001 for two people.

Here’s another way to look at the data:

Table: Congressional relatives on the payroll, annualized

What I’ve done, which is admittedly crude as a comparative, is annualize the numbers as best I could from the AP data. For those with multiple relatives on the payroll, I averaged the salaries paid to all of them (the DeLay information was all aggregated, so that was the best I could do). In cases where the figures are given for work on a campaign, I made the presumption, possibly false, that they worked a full year unless otherwise specified. In the case of the DeLays, I presume that the data is for January 2001 through April 2005 and count it as 4.25 years.

With the exception of Rep. Lewis, none are paying even modestly high salaries–and $111,000 is not a lot for a congressional chief of staff. The $58,823 DeLay’s wife and daughter are averaging is hardly extravagent, certainly not in the D.C. area.

The bottom line is that, unless DeLay’s wife and daughter are not actually doing the jobs for which they’re being paid, there’s nothing unusual going on here. I’m no fan of DeLay’s but this doesn’t strike me as problematic within the confines of the current system. Putting family members on payroll appears to be a bipartisan–although not that frequent occurence. Only 2.75% of House Members and 1% of Senators are doing it, if the AP report is complete.

I’m more than a little uncomfortable with Members’ families on the public payroll and, given the shoe-in nature of re-election to the House, even putting them on the campaign payroll could be problematic, given that an unscrupulous Member could take a backdoor bribe in this manner, since a spouse’s money usually goes to the couple. Of course, unless we outlaw people related to Congressman taking jobs, period, that issue is always a potential concern.

Update (1055): Apparently, the AP figures are not all-inclusive. Hugh Hewitt:

“In addition, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) paid her son, a lawyer, $130,000 over four years to run her political action committee, according to her campaign filings.”

This choice quote is buried in paragraph 20 of today’s Los Angeles Times’ story on electeds using campaign funds to pay family members. No Democrat is mentioned until paragraph 16, and even though the payments by Tom DeLay’s campaign committee to his wife and daughter are old, old news, they dominate the early paragraphs while the “new” information on Boxer and other Democrats gets buried deep in the story. That’s fair, right? Good journalism as well, burying the new stuff.

Indeed, there are numerous officials mentioned in the LAT story not included in the AP (and thus, my) list:

Among the recipients of the largest payments were members of DeLay’s family and those of Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy). Pombo paid his wife and brother $357,325 from his political fund over the last four years for duties listed as bookkeeping, fundraising, consulting and other unspecified services, records show. The amount paid to Pombo’s family members in the last election cycle was more than his opponent spent on his entire campaign. Pombo declined to be interviewed.

Including Pombo, five of the top six congressional families in The Times’ analysis of two election cycles were Californians. The campaign fund of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) paid $251,853 to her husband’s firm, according to the candidate’s campaign filings. She was followed by Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-North Hollywood), $205,500; Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego), $154,504; and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), $152,362. Altogether, at least 10 lawmakers in the 53-member California House delegation have hired family members, according to records and interviews.

Interesting. One wonders why AP didn’t include these people. One presumes, if the practice is this prevalent in the California delegation, it’s happening at a similar rate across the board.

The Pombo case illustrates the problem of potential for abuse.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington, said the practice should be prohibited. Campaign payments to family members could potentially become a way to get around the ban on the personal use of political funds, he said. “In many races for Congress, there is no serious opposition, and members build up substantial war chests that can easily lead to the temptation to start making payments to family members, which can in effect become payments … to the benefit of members themselves,” he said. “This kind of activity does create problems in terms of public perceptions. It does create the potential for self-dealing.”

FEC regulations permit salary payments to family members for “bona fide, campaign-related services,” according to a 2001 advisory opinion issued to Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.). Jackson had asked the commission whether he could hire his wife, Sandi, as a paid campaign consultant. “Any salary in excess of fair market value of the services provided is personal use,” the opinion said, noting that it was illegal for candidates to use campaign funds for personal use.

There is one complaint before the FEC about a member of Congress paying relatives for campaign work. The Colorado Democratic Party filed a complaint against former Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) last year questioning McInnis’ payment of $39,000 to his wife, Lori, from his congressional campaign committee after he announced he would not be seeking reelection. Democrats labeled the payments excessive and “unseemly.” McInnis said that the payments to his wife were legitimate and complied with FEC rules. He said a response to the complaint had been filed with the FEC. “Her work is public and all her payments are public,” McInnis said, adding that his wife’s salary had been based on the pay scale for congressional employees with similar responsibilities. “She ran the campaign with an iron fist.”

Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R-Texas), whose political committee paid his daughter-in-law Jody $123,761 for the last two campaigns, said, “I don’t see anything wrong with it if she’s doing real work for real pay.”

That’s the real problem, isn’t it? How do we know? Is a Member’s wife really qualified to be his campaign manager? Oftentimes, yes. What if the campaign is itself a sham?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fersboo says:

    Hell no, Delay has to go! ‘Cause he is a an evil, evil man.

  2. kappiy says:

    Cut Jerry Lewis some slack! Granted, his career has suffered since the split with Dean Martin, but his concern for Jerry’s Kids as exhibited by his tireless telethon should give him a “bye” on this one!

  3. Jim says:

    Don’t forget that former Minority Leader Daschle’s wife was a lobbyist (I think for Boeing) for the House. Nope…no potential conflict of interest there. Move along…