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Covering the office of Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) has almost become a job unto itself for HOH. There are his staffers’ wild parties in Annapolis, the fallout of which involved pecans. There are his Mississippi accounting firm’s interesting ownership and business classification issues. And now there are his, or more specifically his staffers’, adventures in odd jobs.
Sources close to the office revealed that Palazzo and his wife, Lisa, used at least two staffers as de facto babysitters here in Washington and tapped federal employees to help the family move into a new apartment.
House ethics rules prohibit Members of Congress from using staffers for their “personal benefit” — see the farmer-staffer program of ex-Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) — though some personal tasks, such as picking up dry cleaning, can occasionally be categorized as official business.
One former aide apparently logged about 40 hours helping the Palazzos relocate from Capitol Hill to Penn Quarter in August. That time was spent moving and arranging the Palazzo personal effects as well as pingponging between the new apartment and home-decorating stores at the behest of Lisa Palazzo.
Palazzo aides confirmed that fellow staffers participated in the move but maintain those involved were compensated for their time from the Palazzos’ personal accounts.
During the course of a month, “the employees worked nine and 15 hours [during work days] respectively,” Palazzo Deputy Chief of Staff Hunter Lipscomb asserted. According to Lipscomb, the then-office manager and Lisa Palazzo calculated the staffers’ hourly wages to be $16.83 an hour. The office deducted $151.47 and $252.45 from the respective staffers’ paychecks to account for the Congressional work hours lost.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the office budget manager, who has over twenty years of Congressional pay roll experience, recommended the strict following of standard Pay Roll Office practice of reducing pay and reimbursing with personal funds for work voluntarily done by the two former staffers during office hours. Any out of pocket expenses incurred have been reimbursed to the former staffers and they were compensated with personal funds for any additional after hour voluntary work. The office fully followed the recommendation of the office budget manager and has been in consultation with the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer to ensure total compliance,” Palazzo Chief of Staff Jamie Miller explained in an email statement.
At least one staffer acknowledged receiving a check from the Palazzos in October.
Whether any money changed hands for untold hours of babysitting remains in question.
Sources say that during the summer, the three Palazzo children were chauffeured to the weeks-long Capitol Experience Camp in the Cannon House Office Building — where Palazzo’s office is located — by a staffer each morning. After camp let out, a staffer — sometimes two — would collect the children and then return them home. Aides would routinely bathe and feed the children, chaperone them at the pool or movies and eventually put them to bed.
By all accounts, Palazzo covered all meals and extracurricular activities. The office insists staffers were also paid in cash for their lost personal time, a claim at least one babysitter refuted.