November 11th, 2010
05:07 PM ET
12 years ago

Candidate payrolls: keeping it in the family

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."

Filed under: Congress
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Irving Washington

    When Democrats do it, it's called 'nepotism'. When Republicans do it, it's called 'family values'.

    November 11, 2010 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    New rules for elections need to be written and not by those they affect.
    No more fmaily on the payroll. No more blind donations, no more instututional spending. And , there should be a limit on how much is spent. This is not free speech- this is wealth tlalking. It does not always work, but it always keep the little guy out.

    November 11, 2010 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  3. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Many campaign workers do it for free and it's seems to be underminding their hard work when a politicians family member is on payroll. Personally, I don't care whether it's taxpayers money or not, it's still money not paid to none family members.

    November 11, 2010 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  4. walleye46

    Its a drop in the bucket, but how about all the Senators and Congressmen paying for their own Health Insurance like the rest of us. Maybe then they will know what the people that voted for them go through.

    November 11, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  5. T'sah from Virginia

    It's all going to come out!!!! Wait until we find out who the donors were for the RepubliCAN'Ts!!!

    T'sah is OUT of Campaign MODE and N2 making sure the RepubliCAN'Ts do not WOOF the President into BOWING DOWN to them!!! President Obama stay strong and DO NOT let those TAX CUTS extend for the RICH – Raise the threshold to $500,000, etc. and anyone OVER that amount TAX CUTS ENDS!!!!

    November 11, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  6. Dave

    It may be legal, but it sure isn't ethical. I see no difference between this and the candidate directly pocketing the campaign "donations" as they're going to the same bank account. This should be illegal, but since it's great for politicians no change will ever happen.

    Also CNN – Nice job borrowing the Tribune's story and not doing any further research. "Not readily available" is not an excuse for not doing your homework. As the article plainly states, the information IS readily available from the FEC, why don't you have a few of your employees do some research for once?

    November 11, 2010 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  7. George of the jungle

    Love the last post. We need to do away with it Im sure it gets abused. I bet the repos do it more. Just the kind of thing they like

    November 11, 2010 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  8. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It just raises bad flags all around. We can't have this because it just seems questionable.

    November 11, 2010 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |