Earlier this month, the government shutdown left most federal workers furloughed as the country spiraled toward an economic crisis — but members of Congress kept fundraising. So what is all that money used for?
As “60 Minutes” reported earlier this month, surprisingly often, members of Congress are using it to pay family members, pick up the tab at expensive hotels and restaurants, and cover other expenses the rest of us have to pay for ourselves.
My organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, routinely combs through campaign finance reports and other documents in an attempt to follow the money. In “Family Affair,” a report published last year, we found that more than 75 members of the House had paid family members through their campaign committees or political action committees during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, and 90 representatives paid or contributed to family businesses, employers or associated nonprofits.
Some other spending caught our attention, too. There was the expensive hotel stay in Athens, Greece, for Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., who reimbursed his campaign after we reported the expense. Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, used his campaign funds to pay to renew his membership in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — hard to see how that’s relevant to his day job.
As “60 Minutes” reported, CREW found that retired Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, had at least six family members on the payroll during the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles. Now retired and no longer running for any office, he’s still paying family members. Paul’s daughter, Lori Pyeatt, has received more than $16,000 so far this year in salary payments from his congressional campaign committee, his presidential campaign committee and his leadership PAC.
Some members of Congress have defended the practice of hiring family members, with one arguing, as Alexander did, “If one can’t trust their daughter, then who can they trust?” Others claim their family members are qualified. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., for instance, has paid his daughter-in-law’s company more than $150,000 for fundraising consulting since 2011 alone. Enzi has said his daughter-in-law Danielle was a fundraiser before she married into the family, and he’s happy with her work.
To be sure, the Federal Election Commission, the government’s campaign finance watchdog, specifically allows candidates to use campaign funds to pay family members who provide bona fide services and are paid fair market value. Such arrangements are rarely challenged, however, and wispy reporting requirements and elastic definitions make it difficult to determine whether family members are doing the work they are paid to do. Weak oversight by the FEC compounds the problem.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.