In February 1991, Rep, John Doolittle (R-Calif.) had been in the House for only a couple of months, but he already had some ideas about how to change the place.
Though Doolittle would later make his name as one of the reform-minded “Gang of Seven” — and has more recently come under scrutiny in the federal corruption investigation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff — these weren’t ideas about cutting the size of government or doing away with Member perks.
On the contrary, Doolittle thought Members needed more pay and benefits. A lot more.
Doolittle presented a list of proposals to the House Administration Committee in 1991 that called for Members to receive a per-diem stipend of at least $92 per day; for “a corps of staff to assist the members, to perform routine tasks such as rides to airports, pickups, deliveries, etc;” for “an additional automobile” for each Member to use in Washington, D.C.; and for the government to pay for the moving expenses of lawmakers and their families when they relocate to the nation’s capital.
None of those proposals ever came to pass, but Doolittle has continued throughout his career to advocate increasing compensation and benefits for Members and their families.
Doolittle regularly has found ways under existing rules to benefit his own family by hiring his wife as a fundraiser, thus allowing the family to pocket a cut of his political donations, or using two campaign accounts to cover babysitting costs. In addition, Doolittle, like many Members, has not been shy about taking expensive, privately funded trips, sometimes with his wife or daughter in tow.
Dan Blankenburg, Doolittle’s deputy chief of staff, said his boss’ general feeling on the issue of Member benefits was that lawmakers should receive the same perks that most private-sector employees get.
“He thinks that Members of the House, the staff and all federal employees should have the same benefits that all Americans are insured with,” Blankenburg said, pointing out that federal employees, for example, currently don’t receive a dental or vision benefit.
“I think it’s just creating parity in the HR marketplace,” he said.
When Roll Call wrote in 1992 about Doolittle’s list of suggestions from the previous year, Doolittle blamed Democrats for allegedly leaking the document in an effort to hurt his re-election campaign. He also said the list, which included ways to change the House’s procurement policies, was an effort “to make the House run more efficiently and cost-effectively.”
Doolittle’s activities have drawn increased attention as the investigation into Abramoff, a longtime Doolittle ally, has grown. Abramoff gave generously to Doolittle’s various campaign accounts over the course of several years, and the California lawmaker — an avowed gambling opponent — has written letters to the Interior Department advocating stances that would benefit tribal casino clients of Abramoff.
Doolittle also has steered federal money toward a company owned by another of his campaign donors, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who is being investigated in connection to the bribery case of ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.).
On a personal level, Doolittle has most recently drawn attention for using his political action committee, the Superior California Leadership Fund, and his re-election campaign committee to pay for babysitting services, a practice first reported in a Washington Post editorial last week.