Renzi’s Chief of Staff Drops Role as Congressman’s Top Fundraiser

Posted May 7, 2007 at 6:50pm

Patricia Roe, Rep. Rick Renzi’s (R-Ariz.) chief of staff, has quit her fundraising duties for the lawmaker to spend more time concentrating on her Congressional job while her boss is engulfed in legal troubles.

In March, Roe received her last $5,000-a-month retainer payment for outside fundraising work, which would have amounted to $60,000 in annual outside compensation. But prior to that, she doubled her 2006 salary of $102,916 with $110,957 in fundraising work for Renzi during the 2005-2006 election cycle.

“It really just doesn’t make sense right now for me to be fundraising,” Roe said in an interview. “I need to kind of be more focused on just the other part of my life. Fundraising is just a difficult and not fun thing.”

Roe’s boss may need her around more than ever at the moment. Renzi is under federal investigation involving a land swap, and a family business owned by his wife was raided in April by the FBI.

Roe also did fundraising work for Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) before signing on with Renzi. Her husband, Jason Roe, was chief of staff to Feeney at the time. Jason Roe moved on to become deputy campaign manager for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) presidential campaign, but he resigned abruptly from the Romney campaign on April 24, citing familial obligations. But Feeney recently was asked by the FBI about a 2003 golf trip to Scotland with now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the FBI reportedly has shown a specific interest in an e-mail Jason Roe sent to several Florida newspapers regarding the golf trip.

Patricia Roe’s unusual dual role as chief of staff and personal fundraiser for the Republican lawmaker had raised more than a few eyebrows on Capitol Hill and with government watchdog groups.

Roe began fundraising for Renzi in 2005 and joined his office as chief of staff in December 2005. She received what she said would be her last $5,000 payment for fundraising work from Renzi in March 2007.

House ethics rules bar senior staff — defined in 2007 as those who make a salary of at least $111,675 for more than 90 days — from earning outside income of $25,200 or more.

But on Oct. 27, 2006, after a Harper’s magazine story first reported Roe’s outside fundraising work, Roe got a letter from the ethics committee clearing her outside activities as perfectly legitimate.

“Provided that your House salary remains below the senior staff level, these provisions do not apply to you,” the letter said.

Outside ethics experts questioned whether Roe’s salary wasn’t being held artificially low in order to avoid House ethics committee guidelines.

“It seems to me that her salary is being held artificially low just so that she can have another full-time job where she makes a lot of money,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the Democratic-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“Chiefs of staff in general are senior staff and to pretend that this isn’t a senior staff job is ludicrous.”

An examination of salaries for chiefs of staff, to other House Members from Arizona in 2006 showed that Roe ranked in the middle in terms of compensation.

Three top aides to Arizona Members took in substantially more money than Roe in 2006: Joseph Eule, administrative assistant to ex-Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R), who raked in an annual $159,828; Tommy Ray Stalling, chief of staff to Rep. Trent Franks (R), who made $121,816 annually; and Sean Noble, chief of staff to Rep. John Shadegg (R), who collected $129,638 per year.

But the top aides to Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) made the equivalent or less money than Roe: Margaret Klessig Edmounds took in $99,500 working for Flake in 2006, while Glen Miller banked $101,629 working for Grijalva.

It is not unusual for Congressional aides to spend their own time doing political or campaign work for their bosses. But it is rarer for a top aide to hold down a full-time job as his or her boss’s top fundraiser.

When he was deputy chief of staff to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), for instance, Mike Stokke was paid $31,009, mainly for press relations, by Hastert’s Keep Our Majority leadership political action committee. Scott Palmer, then Hastert’s chief of staff, received $28,084 in the 2006 cycle for similar political activities.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said ethics rules were murky when it came to restrictions on Hill aides doing political work.

“This is a slippery slope for Members and there ought to be stronger rules in the Congress about the ways in which Members can in effect make double payments to staff members by providing them with a government salary and then supplementing the salary with money from their campaign funds,” he said.

But Wertheimer said that high-paid outside jobs demand time that may conflict with a staffer’s official duties.

“The rules basically say that you have to be able to justify that you’re putting in full-time work for the salary you’re making,” he said. “The more money someone is making in outside earnings, the more questions it raises about the amount of time they’re spending on their Hill job versus the amount of time they’re spending on their outside activities.”

Before coming to the Hill in 2005, Roe had her own fundraising business and raised money for other Republican Members, including Feeney and Reps. Clay Shaw (Fla.), Henry Hyde (Ill.), Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.).

She dropped those other fundraising clients when she signed on as Renzi’s chief of staff, which she said made the workload for just one client — Renzi — seem much lighter.

But she acknowledged the difficulty of trying to balance what amounts to two full-time jobs as a Member’s top aide and chief fundraiser.

“When the opportunity came [to work in Renzi’s office], even though it was a major cut in my income, it was worth the sanity and just having a normal life,” Roe said.

“It was like having one boss rather than seven. It just kept me up at night, just not every night,” she explained. “My e-mails that go out to my database go out at very odd times.”