House disclosure rules require lawmakers to report all sources of spousal income over $1,000 for each year. But Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who paid his wife, Mereda, $30,000 from 2008 to 2010, failed to list this income on his financial disclosure reports. After being contacted by Roll Call, Johnson amended three years of reports to disclose his wife's campaign salary.
"Although this information was disclosed numerous times on Congressman Johnson's FEC report, he is amending his Congressional disclosures to reflect this income source as well," Johnson spokesman Andy Phelan said.
In addition to spouses, many Members of Congress have put other family members on their campaign payrolls.
For instance, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) has paid his aunt Beverly $114,000 over the past four years to answer phones, file paperwork and organize the campaign's grass-roots efforts.
"Bev was a longtime volunteer before she met the Congressman's uncle, whom she later married," campaign spokeswoman Jaime Lennon said. "Our contributors have known her for many, many years, and they all agree that she adds a lot of value to the campaign."
Beverly Ruppersberger said her passion for the job makes her a better employee than most Washington consultants.
"I am very detailed, and I'm so careful to an extent that I want everything to run smoothly," she said. "I knew him and his sister from my church, and I just knew how honest he was, so I just wanted to help."
Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) paid the law firm of his sister, Michelle, about $309,000 — more than any other vendor or staffer — for everything from campaign management to data entry.
During the same period, his campaign has doled out $800 to his niece, Angela, for media consulting, and an additional $400 in disbursements to his ex-wife, Ivie Lewellen Clay. He also paid $11,000 to his nonprofit, the William L. Clay Scholarship and Research Fund, for "voter education research."
"I would say that for us, the family that works hard together, wins together," said Michelle Clay, who works as the campaign's political director, legal counsel and chief fundraiser as well as "a trusted voice in the Congressman's political circle."
"Over the last decade, my brother and I have built on the historic legacy of public service that our father, former Congressman Bill Clay, established in Missouri's first Congressional district," she added.
Rep. Joe Barton has also paid large campaign salaries to family members. The Texas Republican has paid his daughter, Kristin, more than $106,000 since 2007, including more than $13,000 in bonuses for campaign work. Her campaign wages started 18 months after Barton's wife, Terri, received her last campaign paycheck in 2007 — a year in which she received more than $27,000.
Correction: July 26, 2011
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Angela Clay. She is the niece of Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.).