Several House lawmakers have made their spouses and other relatives the highest-paid workers on their campaigns over the past few years.
dauDuring the past four and a half years, these relatives have collectively received millions in salaries, fees and bonuses, according to a CQ MoneyLine study of campaign finance records.
It all appears legal, but some people question whether this spending is ethical or even a good investment of donated money in modern elections.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) leads the pack in payments to his spouse. Since 2007, McKeon has reported disbursements to his wife, Patricia, topping $264,000, including a bonus of $4,600 in January 2007. Her compensation more than doubles the salary of the next-highest-paid employee on McKeon's campaign and does not include thousands in reimbursements for food, travel and other expenses.
In response to Roll Call's query, McKeon said in a statement, "Patricia gets paid by the campaign as a senior staff member for handling multiple critical elements and roles of the operation and bringing roughly 20 years of experience to the table."
Campaign records show that at least four other House lawmakers made their spouses the highest-paid individuals on their campaign payrolls.
A 2001 Federal Election Commission opinion on the issue states that "salary payments to family members" are completely legal as long as "they are fair market value payments for bona fide, campaign-related services."
But Washington, D.C., watchdogs say this rule raises ethical and legal problems.
"The questions are: What are these people being paid for, do they have any experience and are they being paid the going rate?" said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which did similar studies in 2007 and 2008. "If they are not, it could be a campaign finance violation."
Some of these spousal employees have useful experience in the field. For instance, Rep. Bobby Rush's wife, Carolyn, started out as a community organizer in Chicago before working on his campaign.
Since 2007, the Illinois Democrat has paid his wife $235,000 in salary and consulting fees, more than six times that of his next-highest-paid campaign staffer. He also paid his sister, Judy, $800 and his son, Flynn, $275 during the past two cycles.
"His wife is very, very well-known and highly respected as a community organizer," Rush spokeswoman Renee Ferguson said. "She has the skills and knows block by block how to get elected here."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's wife, Rhonda — who was the California Republican's campaign manager before becoming his wife — has received more than $178,000 from her husband's campaign since 2007.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) paid his wife, Susan, $120,000, and Rep. Elton Gallegly paid his wife, Janice, more than $100,000 during the same period.
Doyle said in an email that his wife "is the full-time finance director for Doyle for Congress. Her responsibilities are in-district fundraising, data base management and FEC compliance."
Gallegly's office noted that his wife's pay is too small to get anyone else to do the job.
"She makes $26,400 a year," Gallegly spokesman Tom Pfeifer said, "and $26,400 a year is not a lot of money, particularly in today's economy. For that, Mrs. Gallegly does all the bookkeeping, files all of the FEC reports, coordinates the volunteers, creates and manages all the fundraising and other campaign events, answers the phone and even takes out the trash."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.