Consulting has long been a family affair for Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) — including his extended “family” of Congressional aides.
His two top aides, and the spouse of one of them, collectively took in more than $300,000 over five years this decade in consulting fees from Doolittle’s re-election campaign committee and his leadership political action committee.
They are David Lopez, who served as his chief of staff until April 2005; Kathy Lopez, the former chief of staff’s wife; and Richard Robinson, the longtime district director who became chief of staff after Lopez’s departure.
Until last year, Lopez and Robinson served as the partners of a political consulting firm, Votenet Systems, which appears to have had only Doolittle as a political client.
This comes on top of the fees paid by Doolittle-linked entities to Julie Doolittle, the Congressman’s wife. Julie Doolittle, who ran Sierra Dominion Financial Services, a fundraising firm out of their home in Oakton, Va., was paid close to $200,000 for fundraising consultant work, a practice allowed under Federal Election Commission rules.
Doolittle’s office could not comment on the consulting work by press time on Friday evening but has long defended the work of his wife and his aides as perfectly legal and proper under House ethics rules.
Those rules allow for senior aides to receive outside income, including from political work for their bosses, but staff cannot earn more than 15 percent of a Member’s salary in outside income — which, under current calculations, puts the ceiling for such payments at almost $25,000.
Throughout this decade, Lopez and Robinson have earned just about $20,000 each per year when both were working for Doolittle. That calculation is based on a 50-50 split of their consulting revenue according to fundraising expense reports compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com and a review of filings with the Federal Election Commission and the IRS.
Those political payments came on top of their regular Congressional salaries. For 2005, Robinson earned about $150,000, and in 2004, his last full year on the taxpayer payroll, Lopez earned $148,500, according to office expense reports.
From early 2001 through early 2006, the firm run by Lopez and Robinson collected more than $207,000 in consulting payments from the John T. Doolittle for Congress committee. In addition to the Votenet Systems payments, Kathy Lopez collected more than $42,000 in fundraising consulting payments from his federal committees and the nonfederal account for the Superior California Leadership Fund, which was closed down in late 2002 when such accounts were outlawed by new campaign laws.
Unlike Julie Doolittle, whose payments have largely been determined by a 15 percent take on funds she raised, Votenet Systems was usually paid a monthly rate, ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 a month.
While their outside income has been acceptable under ethics guidelines, Lopez’s finances have received scrutiny from federal prosecutors. As Roll Call reported earlier this spring, the Justice Department pulled the financial disclosure forms of Lopez, along with Doolittle and more than a dozen other Members and former staffers, apparently in connection with its more than two-year probe of ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
One of the disclosure reports searched by Justice for Lopez was 2001, when he took a midsummer trip to Puerto Rico that was paid for by Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff’s former firm. In February, Doolittle’s office told the Sacramento Bee — which has closely followed the political and financial dealings of the House Republican Conference Secretary — that a proper sponsor actually paid for the trip but declined to mention who that sponsor was.
No amended travel report has been filed since with the House ethics committee.
Doolittle, who hired a white-collar criminal defense attorney this year, has denied any wrongdoing in his relationship with Abramoff or any lobbyists. He has dared the Justice Department to investigate his office, proclaiming he’ll be found innocent.
After leaving the office, David Lopez formed his own consulting firm, called the David Lopez Group. That firm received more than $53,000 in consulting fees from last May through early January, all from the Doolittle for Congress committee.
The Lopezes are no longer working as consultants for any of Doolittle’s political committees, aides said. According to reports with the FEC, his firm was last paid on Jan. 5, a $9,200 consulting fee and more than $3,800 in “fundraising supplies.”
Kathy Lopez’s last consulting payment from Doolittle was $4,600 on Feb. 7.
Neither of them received any payments in March.
The last recorded expenditure to the Lopezes was on Feb. 17, when Doolittle for Congress paid Kathy Lopez $2.79 for postage.