Just a family operation

Dozens of lawmakers have hired their spouses and children to work for their campaigns and political groups, paying them with contributions they’ve collected from special interests and other donors.

A few family members earn enough to make a living. Many come cheap. They manage the books, give speeches, raise money and run the daily operations, according to an Associated Press review of records.

Such hirings are legal, but the practice became an issue this month when it was reported that the wife and daughter of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had been paid more than $500,000 since 2001. They worked for DeLay’s political action and campaign committees.

Congressional bosses express no regrets about their family arrangements.

“My wife raised $250,000 more than I ever raised with all the expensive consultants,” Rep. Ron Lewis, R-Ky., told the AP.

Lewis hired his wife, Kayi, to be his campaign director and campaign manager about a year ago, and he pays her $50,000 a year. He estimated the hiring saved him more than $40,000 a year in salary and consulting fees.

Mary Hayworth, wife of Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, earns $20,000 a year as the director and only employee of his political action committee.

“The minimal salary she’s paid is far less than if you hired somebody in from outside,” spokesman Larry VanHoose said.

AP’s review identified roughly four-dozen lawmakers who hired family members for their campaign or political groups, from Connecticut Sen. and former presidential candidate Joe Lieberman to a House member from Utah who paid three of his seven children for campaign work.

“I think anytime someone does it they have to be ready and willing to explain what the relative does and justify the salary,” said Larry Noble, head of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based campaign finance watchdog group.

“I think when you start putting a whole family on the payroll and start putting kids on the payroll, the scrutiny may increase,” Noble added. “It’s a form of self-dealing and anytime you’re involved with self-dealing, questions are going to be raised.”

A smaller number of lawmakers hire relatives for their congressional staffs. The wife of Rep. Jerry Lewis, a 14-term lawmaker from California, serves as his chief of staff at a salary of nearly $111,000. Before they were married, Arlene Willis was her husband’s top aide when he came to Washington in 1979.

Lieberman’s presidential campaign paid the senator’s wife, Hadassah, at least $22,000, records show. His son Matthew received about $34,000 and his daughter Rebecca about $36,000.

Sherry Brown, who was the presidential campaign’s chief of staff, said the Lieberman children were paid on par with other staff members doing fund-raising work. Payments to Hadassah Lieberman were for reimbursement of expenses, Brown said.

Lieberman wasn’t the only one in the presidential race with a relative on the campaign payroll. Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary was paid about $81,000 by the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

Laurie Stupak, wife of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said she has earned about $36,000 annually during the past two years as the finance director for her husband’s campaign.

She said she was paid slightly more – nearly $3,900 a month – for part of last year because she served as both campaign manager and finance director. She also received an election bonus of $2,500 last November.

The money was earned by working more than 40 hours a week and traveling long hours on weekends in a sprawling district, she said.

California Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly’s wife, Janice, has run his campaigns since he was a mayor, continuing in that role since he first ran successfully for Congress in 1986.

She did the work for free until last year, when she began taking payment of about $2,600 a month after deciding she’d like more financial independence, Gallegly said in an interview.

“I think that it’s important that she have a little more independence and not feel like she has to depend on me if she needs a couple hundred dollars or if she wants to buy something,” he said.

Other spouses got raises, too.

For instance, Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark’s wife, Deborah, received a monthly increase from $650 to $2,400 as a campaign consultant three years ago – around the time the couple had twins.

At the time, Stark, D-Calif., said his wife filled the roles of campaign manager, office manager and bookkeeper. “My position is, she’s a bargain,” he said.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, had three college age children working on his campaign last year. They organized events, distributed literature and spoke to state convention delegates. Emily was paid $5,425, Jane earned $9,508 and Laura – still employed by the campaign – received $17,766.

“It surprised me they didn’t make more,” Cannon chief of staff Joe Hunter said.

Freshman Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, employs his wife, Kathy, as his campaign manager, the campaign’s sole worker at present. Campaign records show she was paid $21,791 over four months, including a $7,500 bonus last November.

“Kathy has her MBA and had been a fulltime teacher for a number of years until last year when she gave up teaching to work fulltime on our campaign,” Gohmert said. He called her “the most important part of my campaign team.”

Freshman Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said he employed his retired cousin Ken as a co-campaign manager last year. Ken Costa, an accountant by training who was retired from the state teachers retirement system, made about $45,000 helping out with accounting and other duties.

“He didn’t want to take the money. He was enjoying it,” Rep. Costa said. But it was only fair to pay him, Costa said.

Some candidates pay themselves using campaign money.

Starting with the last election, hopefuls who quit their jobs to run for office could make up the lost wages using campaign funds, a move federal election officials said would help political newcomers of poor or moderate means.

Associated Press Writers Erica Werner, Hillary Roxe, Lolita Baldor, Suzanne Gamboa and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Associated Press