Today's Washington Post carried an editorial
about the sweetheart deal whereby one of every six dollars donated to Congressman John Doolittle's campaign fund (CA-4) was paid to his wife, Julie, as a "commission". Of course, this is not news to dKos users, or at least those of us who read dengre
's diary on this very topic a month ago. So the news is, mainly, that the Washington Post is belatedly catching up.
Below the fold, there's more on the Doolittles, some discussion of Pombo's family fortunes, and some news about $2.3 million funneled from Jack Abramoff to his brother, though no services were specified on the associated billings.
The San Diego Union-Tribune
(3/19/06) has been on the Doolittle story, as collateral to the Duke Cunningham imbroglio. So the Post is late indeed to get on board this story.
Acting as her husband's campaign consultant, Julie Doolittle charged his campaign and his Superior California Political Action Committee a 15 percent commission on any contribution she helped bring in.
Pretty sweet deal, all in all. And, it appears, she took credit for more than just the occasional donation. From the WaPo:
Mr. Doolittle's office defends the commission arrangement, saying that he wanted to ensure his wife "was not accused of receiving payments without generating results -- a charge that has been frequently leveled against members of Congress whose family members receive a salary instead of a commission." If so, Mr. Doolittle created one appearance problem in his effort to solve another. True, some campaign fundraisers operate on a commission basis, and 15 percent is a standard fee. But the practice of taking commissions is increasingly disfavored. The Association of Fundraising Professionals' code of ethics prohibits such arrangements.
We've been reluctant to criticize congressional spouses whose related careers -- as lobbyists or campaign consultants, for example -- predate their marriages. Mrs. Doolittle does not appear to present such a case. Mr. Doolittle points to a 2001 Federal Election Commission advisory opinion that permitted the wife of Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) to be hired as a Jackson campaign consultant. In that case, though, Sandi Jackson had extensive political experience and a written contract with her husband's campaign. Asked if Mrs. Doolittle has a contract, a representative of her husband's office declined to answer specific questions. Similarly, Mr. Doolittle's office says he's been told by the House ethics committee that his arrangement is permissible, but his office did not provide any documentation.
Putting family members on the campaign payroll is questionable. Letting them -- and by extension, the candidate -- take a piece of the contribution action ought to be completely out of bounds.
Until now, Rep. Doolittle has made it a point of pride that he'd not retained an attorney, despite the fact that his name arises often in Abramoff-related scandal news. That changed this week. The Sacramento Bee reported on Tuesday that Doolittle's re-election campaign has retained one of the attorneys from Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation stable, one David Barger. But, of course, it's not related to the scandals:
"The congressman has not retained an attorney to respond to any Justice Department inquiries, as there have been none," he said.
"Given the amount of media attention that has surrounded this issue, it is understandable that the congressman wants to be as prudent as possible when making public statements as to ensure their accuracy and not compromise the ongoing investigation."
But Naomi Seligman Steiner, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said she thinks the retention of Barger is an indication that Doolittle is worried that he's in trouble.
Yeah, right! For just one little thing, Julie Doolittle's business records were subpoenaed in conjunction with the Justice Dept.'s Abramoff investigation.
Here's a map of Doolittle's district:
Meanwhile, Rep. Richard Pombo's family (his wife and his brother) have received fully a quarter of his campaign contributions in the form of salary. This is not exactly news, but is worthy of mention in the context of this topic. Story from 12/6/04:
Federal records reveal that Rep. Richard Pombo funneled nearly $256,000 in campaign funds to his wife and brother during the past two years.
Pombo, a Republican who represents a district that includes portions of San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, reportedly paid about a quarter of his campaign funds to his wife, Annette Pombo, and his brother, Randall Pombo.
A related story, entitled DeLay has company in ethical gray areas appeared in USA Today the following April:
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., hired his wife and brother for his campaign and paid them a total of $229,000 over two years.
A year ago, Washington Post reported $357k in payments to Pombo family members, presumably counted over some different time period.
Is this legal? That isn't the only question to be asked IMHO. Because if it is legal, it shouldn't be. One wonders how cognizant campaign contributors are that a large proportion of campaign funds end up directly in the bank accounts of candidates' families. No wonder the public sees the government as irretrievably corrupt.
Lest we think this practice is universal, the LA Times puts it in perspective:
At least 39 members of Congress have engaged in the controversial practice of paying their spouses, children or other relatives out of campaign funds, or have hired companies in which a family member had a financial interest, records and interviews show.
Thirty-nine? That's less than one in ten. So there is grounds for singling out Pombo, Doolittle, and the minority of Representatives who choose to line their own pockets with political contributions. Others prominent Republicans cited in the LA Times article as hiring family members for their campaigns include Dana Rohrbacher, and Tom DeLay.
The Times also adds this caveat:
The Times developed a list of names of relatives and businesses owned by relatives on campaign payrolls from interviews, news accounts and personal financial disclosure reports. Campaign reports do not have to disclose whether recipients of funds are related to a candidate, so The Times' list is most likely incomplete.
The phenomenon, according to the Times, seems particularly prevalent in California, and includes plenty of candidates from both parties. In the case of Pombo, in addition to keeping his brother working fulltime, and his wife receiving about $40k per year, he also hires another brother to cater campaign events.
In the 2003-2004 campaign cycle, Pombo paid more to his family members - $217,000 - than his opponent, Jerry McNerney, spent on his [entire] campaign.
Addendum on Abramoff family ties:
Last week the New York Times reported on an Abramoff sidebar. It appears the disgraced lobbyist directed $2.3 million in fees to his brother in Los Angeles.
On December 3, 2003, Aeneas Enterprises opened for business in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, and judging by its bank records, the small consulting company with no listed telephone number was an instant success.
Within two months, Aeneas received $2.3 million in fees from a Maryland firm, GrassRoots Interactive, established by Jack Abramoff. Jack's brother Robert is an attorney, and Aeneas took phone calls and conducted business from his law office. There is no indication on Aenaes's billing statements as to what the California brother did to earn these fees.