Idaho Rep. Raúl R. Labrador took his wife off his campaign payroll this year for the first time since taking office in 2011, a review of the congressman’s FEC reports shows.
The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review confirmed that Rebecca Johnson Labrador, who has kept the books for her husband since his first term in 2011, has not been paid this year by Labrador’s House campaign fund or the GOP lawmaker’s campaign for governor, which he launched and filed with the FEC in May.
Labrador’s decision is seen as a pre-emptive strike against his opponents’ targeted messaging against him in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Labrador is competing for the Republican nomination with two others, including Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little.
“It sounds like he’s trying to clear the decks of some of the issues that have been brought up in the past, take some of the ammunition away from the other two,” political scientist Jasper LiCalzi told the Spokesman-Review. “I think it’s pretty smart on his part.”
It is not illegal for lawmakers and candidates to pay family members with campaign funds, though the practice can get dicey in the court of public opinion.
Watchdog groups thrust the issue to the fore in 2006 when they discovered California Rep. John T. Doolittle had been paying his wife, a fundraiser, a 15 percent commission on contributions to his leadership PAC and other campaign donations, which stuffed the family coffers with around $180,000 from 2001 to 2006.
The House passed a bill in 2007 to outlaw campaigns from paying candidate spouses except for reimbursing travel expenses, but the bill later died in the Senate.
Labrador told the Spokesman-Review when he first took office in 2011 that his wife handled his campaign finances because “she’s the first one I trust most in the world.”
“I have had employees steal money from me when I was in my professional practice, so I am more than careful,” he said.
His campaign paid only two people at a time last term — his wife and a succession of three other workers, per receipts on his FEC report.
Labrador’s office could not be reached for comment as of publication time.
Labrador has not needed a robust campaign team to hold his seat in Idaho’s 1st District, which he has won with at least 63 percent of the vote in each of his three previous elections. He unseated Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick in the 2010 tea party wave, 51 percent to 41 percent.
President Donald Trump carried the deep-red 1st District by 38 points last fall, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. Among the GOP congressional hopefuls aiming to replace Labrador are former Idaho Lt. Gov. David Leroy and former state Sen. Russ Felcher.