Washington (CNN) - A number of candidates for Congress had their spouses or other family members on their campaign payrolls during the last cycle, public records show.
For example, according to Federal Election Commission filings, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California paid his wife Rhonda Rohrabacher $73,238 over the past two years, and Democrat Bobby Rush of Illinois paid his wife $103,000.
Rohrabacher's chief of staff, Rick Dykema, said the Congressman's wife has long been involved in local politics, and was his campaign manager since before they were married. A spokeswoman for Rush told the Chicago Tribune that Carolyn Rush is entitled to be paid for her work, and has done outstanding work both for her husband and for other candidates.
The filings are available to the public, and there is no allegation of wrongdoing. The payments come from campaign coffers and political action committees, not from taxpayer money.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission said if a candidate wants to pay family members for their campaign work, there are two main requirements: they must be paying only a fair market rate, and they must be paying for bona fide, campaign-related services.
Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois paid his wife Sandi Jackson's firm $101,000 over the past two years. Spokesman Andrew Wilson said her work complies with the FEC guidelines, because she worked on fundraising and campaign strategy, and was paid a fair market value. He added that she is eminently well-qualified for the job – a lawyer, a former Congressional chief of staff and communications director, and a longtime advisor to local, state and national political campaigns.
A spokesman for Republican Joe Barton of Texas – who paid his daughter Kristin Barton $72,600 this past cycle – said she was a key staffer, serving a critical function at the campaign office.
A comprehensive tally for all candidates this year was not readily available. But a 2007 study by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that in the previous three cycles, 64 members of Congress - 26 Democrats and 38 Republicans - paid family members for their campaign work.
Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group which helped CNN go through the FEC filings, says paying a spouse could appear unsavory to the public, if it allows campaign donations to find their way into a candidate's household income.
"Even if it is for very legitimate work, the question has to arise in a lot of people's minds whether this is patronage," he said.
"But at the end of the day," he added, "at least so far as we can tell at this point, this is legal activity."