Baucus Unlikely to Face Official Fallout From Relationship

Posted December 5, 2009 at 11:14am

Regardless of whether Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) encounters any political fallout from his romantic relationship with his former state director Melodee Hanes, it appears at this point that Baucus is unlikely to face any problems with the Senate ethics committee.

Although Senate ethics rules include a host of constraints on interactions between staff and Members — for instance, the types of gifts Senators and staff can give each other are limited — the Senate has never adopted rules pertaining to lawmakers having intimate relationships with staff members.

Baucus’ office late Friday confirmed that Baucus and Hanes — with whom he now lives — began a personal relationship in the summer of 2008, several months after Baucus and his ex-wife, Wanda, had separated. This spring, Baucus recommended Hanes to become U.S. attorney for Montana; Hanes ultimately withdrew from consideration so she could move to Washington, D.C., to live with Baucus.

Hanes has since taken a position with the Department of Justice, and Baucus’ office said the lawmaker did not arrange for her to be employed by the Obama administration.

Federal nepotism laws, which the Senate Ethics Committee has codified as part of the chamber’s rules, “provides a general prohibition against all Federal officials, including Members, officers, and employees of the Senate, from appointing, employing, promoting, or advancing, or recommending for appointment, employment, promotion or advancement any ‘relative’ of the official to any agency or department over which the official exercises authority or control,— according to the Senate ethics manual.

The Senate has also interpreted the law to apply to situations in which a staff member becomes a “relative— of a lawmaker, meaning that aside from standard cost of living adjustments, Members cannot give new relatives raises or promotions.

But the law’s definition of “relative— is extremely specific and generally only applies to direct relatives such as spouses and children — for instance, the nephew of a Member’s spouse would not be covered. Likewise, because Hanes is Baucus’ girlfriend and not his wife, the law would not apply.

A Baucus spokesman declined to comment for this story. In a statement released by Baucus’ office on Friday night, however, spokesman Tyler Matsdorf said, “Ms. Hanes independently applied for her current position at the Department of Justice. Having extensive experience and qualifications in the field, Ms. Hanes was awarded the position based solely on her merit. Since then she has excelled in her role.—