Site Sheds Light on Compensation

Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:45pm

Financial disclosure records that mostly gathered dust in the Senate’s public record room now have been put online and are offering a new view into the relationship between Senate aides and their bosses’ re-election efforts — and the often close personal relationships between staff and lobbyists.

For instance, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) Senatorial campaign committee paid a top Senate aide more than $90,000 in 2006 — even as the aide was on the Senate payroll.

And a review of financial disclosure records for Senate Appropriations Committee staffers and others show a handful of key staff have familial connections to lobbying shops and other entities with millions of dollars worth of business before the chamber.

The records were recently posted by LegiStorm, a Web site that tracks staff pay and trips.

A number of top GOP and Democratic staff on the Senate Appropriations Committee indicate on their forms that their spouses work for a company that either contracts with the federal government or lobbies the Senate. In his financial disclosure form, Senate Appropriations GOP Staff Director Bruce Evans lists the lobbying powerhouse Cassidy and Associates as his wife’s employer, while Arthur Cameron, a professional staff member on the GOP side, lists his wife’s employer as the lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates.

Similarly, Betty Lou Taylor, a Democratic staffer on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, lists Cavarocchi Ruscio Dennis Associates as her spouse’s employer. Cavarocchi Ruscio lists appropriations as one of its principal focuses on its Web site.

Sidney Ashworth, who works on Defense appropriations issues for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), lists defense contractor SAIC as her husband’s employer, according to her 2007 financial disclosure form.

After a series of scandals over the past several years involving Congressional staff, a number of Senate offices have begun instituting new disclosure and lobbying rules for aides and their spouses.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has prohibited the spouses of any of his staff from lobbying his office. Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) last year put in place new disclosure rules for staff on the committee requiring them to detail any potential conflicts of interest they or their spouses may have.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — whose son has worked as a lobbyist in the past — also has instituted a policy barring both his family and the family members of his aides from lobbying his office. “No family member of the Senator or staff may lobby anyone in the office on any matter pending before or involving Congressional action,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

In a Jan. 31, 2007, memo outlining his new rules, Byrd said he is “committed to protecting the integrity and reputation of the Senate Appropriations Committee. … I request that you immediately notify me in writing of any circumstance that you face that might present a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict.”

Margaret McPhillips, spokeswoman for Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), said, “Sen. Cochran expects his staff to abide by the rules and ethics guidelines of the Senate, to practice sound professional judgment, and act in a fashion that does not bring discredit to the Appropriations Committee or the Senate.”

The financial disclosure forms also shed light on the use of Senate staff on political campaigns. Although staff generally will take vacation time or leaves of absence to work on their bosses’ re-election campaigns, Senate rules allow lawmakers to employ staff as long as they do not engage in campaign activities during work hours or using Senate resources.

In 2006, former Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) hired a number of his Senate aides as campaign staff, and required some of those staff members to take a reduction in Senate pay to reflect the split in their time.

Between 2003 and August of last year, Clinton paid Karen M. Persichilli Keogh more than $166,000 from her re-election fund, political action committee and presidential campaign fund, including just over $90,000 in 2006.

At the same time, Keogh was receiving a salary as the state director of Clinton’s Senate office, being paid $335,049 during that same period.

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines noted that Keogh’s dual roles were conducted in accordance with Senate rules and said the lawmaker has been careful to abide by the chamber’s ethics guidelines. “We follow Senate Ethics Committee guidelines, which outline how Senate staffers should be paid for official and nonofficial work,” Reines said.

Federal law prohibits Members and staff who make 120 percent of the GS-15 pay- level per year from having outside income accounting for more than 15 percent of their total income, but few aides are affected by the rule. Typically, lawmakers will maintain a Senate salary below that threshold for staff like Keogh if they are also working on their campaign, Senate aides said.