Reps’ kin live large on campaign funds

Democrats and Republican members of Congress use millions of dollars in campaign funds to pay fat fees and salaries to family members.

The practice is so widespread that lawmakers dismiss it with a nod and a wink and laugh at legislative attempts to ban payments to family members from campaign funds.

Federal Election Commission Reports show Republican and Democratic members of Congress diverted $5.1 million in payments were diverted to family members or entities owned by family members in the past six years and that the practice is increasing with each new campaign season.

Of the 72 members of Congress who routinely use campaign funds to fatten the back accounts of spouses, children and other relatives, 41 are Republicans and 31 Democrats.

Reports Mike Taylor of USA Today:

Seventy-two members of the House of Representatives spent $5.1 million in campaign funds to pay relatives or their relatives' companies or employers during the past six years, a liberal watchdog group says in a report to be released Monday.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) found nearly $3.5 million in campaign payments to relatives during the past three election cycles, from 2001 to 2006. Campaigns paid about $1.6 million to firms owned by or employing the lawmakers or their relatives, the group found.

It is not illegal for federal candidates to pay family members for political work, as long as they are paid fair market value, the Federal Election Commission has ruled. Some would like to change the law because of recent investigations.

Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Mike Castle, R-Del., introduced a bill this month that would prohibit congressional candidates from paying their spouses with campaign funds and require campaigns to disclose family relationships with close relatives on the payroll.

"I think the ban on spouses drawing campaign checks is needed because there's simply been too much abuse of the practice," Schiff says.

The House member cited in the CREW report as spending the most campaign funds on a spouse says she supports that proposal.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., paid her husband's firm, Collins and Day, $285,481 over the past six years, the report says.

Lofgren says her husband, John Marshall Collins, has dissolved the firm, which provided accounting, fundraising and regulatory compliance services.

In addition, Lofgren's campaign paid John Marshall Collins PC, a second company controlled by her husband, $62,705 for rent and office services, the report found.

Related recipients

The 10 firms owned by or employing relatives that got the most campaign funds from Congress members 2001-06:

Member Company paid Relationship Total
Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. Collins and Day Husband's company (John Marshall Collins) $285,481
Bob Filner, D-Calif. Campaign Resources Wife's company (Jane Filner) $249,004
Howard Berman, D-Calif. Berman & D'Agostino Brother's company (Michael Berman) $195,000
Wm. Lacy Clay, D-Mo. Law Offices of Michelle Clay Sister's company (Michelle Clay) $139,314
Gary Miller, R-Calif. G. Miller Development Self $124,725
Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Progressive Connections Daughter's employer (Karen Waters) $111,124
Ric Keller, R-Fla. Hammon & Associates Wife's employer (Danielle Michel) $74,909
Ralph Hall, R-Texas Hall Law Offices Son's company (Blakeley Hall) $68,000
Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. John Marshall Collins P.C. Husband's company (John Marshall Collins) $62,705
Michael Turner, R-Ohio Turner Marketing Wife's company (Lori Turner) $51,099

The 10 individual family members who received the most campaign funds from members of Congress 2001-06.:

Member Person Paid Relationship Total
Buck McKeon, R-Calif. Patricia McKeon Wife $263,168
Ralph Hall, R-Texas Jody Hall Daughter-in-law $181,470
Pete Stark, D-Calif. Deborah Stark Wife $176,800
Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Rhonda Rohrabacher Wife $169,009
Ron Paul, R-Texas Lori Pyeatt Daughter $163,890
Dan Burton, R-Ind. Danielle Sarkins Daughter $143,900
Collin Peterson, D-Minn. Elliott Peterson Son $127,747
Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Laurie Stupak Wife $125,236 **
Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. Margaret Hunter Daughter-in-law $105,353
Louie Gohmert R-Texas Kathy Gohmert Wife $95,703

Source: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington