Thursday, April 14, 2005

Paying Family in Campaigns Not Unusual

Today's news carries several different stories about the practice of Congressional candidates paying spouses and family members for campaign work. A practice that is pretty common place in the world of campaigning is getting attention because--well Tom DeLay did it and therefore, according to the liberal media, it must be wrong.

Here is how the subject plays in the LA Times:

At least 39 members of Congress have engaged in the controversial practice of paying their spouses, children or other relatives out of campaign funds, or have hired companies in which a family member had a financial interest, records and interviews show.House campaign funds have paid more than $3 million to lawmakers' relatives over the last two election cycles, records show.

$3 million sounds like a lot of money right? Not in the realm of congressional campaigns. So lets take a look at some statistics.

39 members of Congress--assuming that this is just the House of representatives since they are the only congressional campaigns that must file online with the FEC--amounts to less that 10% of the entire body of 435. Not exactly a huge sample.

According to the FEC itself, candidates for the House of Representatives spent $551.7 million in the 2004 election cycle (a preliminary total among general election candidates only) and all congressional candidates spent $613 million in the 2002 cycle. So the last two election cycles have spent $1.16 billion dollars in 4 years, of which $3 million was paid to family. That equates to 0.25% of all spending--barely a drop in the bucket of spending.

Of course that is of all congressional campaign spending. The FEC conveniently provides statistics on winners only. Among winning House campaigns, congressmen spent $432.5 million in 2004 and $374.5 million in 2002 for a total of $807 million over four years. At that total, a $3 million combined expense is just o.37% of all spending.

Let's try and break it down further by averages. This is not so good at this level, but here we go. In the 2002 and 2004 cycles, congressional incumbents spent an averate of $1.85 million in two elections per candidate over the four years. That means those 39 candidates mentioned above spent a combined total of $72.15 million dollars over four years (assuming an average expenditure amount). Even $3 million dollars of that total, comes to just 4.1% of all spending.

The practice of hiring family to conduct campaign services is not new and unless it is made illegal will continue. Lawmakers may feel that family are the only people they can truly trust--people in campaign work are often obsessed with the aggrandizement of their own power that they fail to put their candidate first. To be sure, it looks like Tom DeLay paid a lot of money to his family and that could be excessive. It would not surprise me if the FEC has an investigation under way now. But the fact that family is used should not shock anyone.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune described the situation in their lead paragraph:

Dozens of lawmakers have hired their spouses and children to work for their campaigns and political groups, paying them with contributions they've collected from special interests and other donors. called the practice Nepotism--which technically it is, but such a word is clearly loaded. In Bennington, Vermont, the press took on Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who has paid his family in excess of $100,000 in the past several years. Here is what the Bennington Banner wrote:

The ethics of lawmakers paying their families jumped into the spotlight on Capitol Hill last week, following reports that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas had paid his wife and daughter more than $500,000 for campaign-related work.

Jim Barrett, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, used Sanders' family payments to highlight what he said is Democratic "hypocrisy" for fiercely attacking DeLay. "It's the standard hypocrisy from the left," Barrett said. "When a Republican does it, it's inappropriate and front page news. But now it turns out, our own Bernie Sanders has been doing it for a long time."

He added: "If it's corruption when Tom DeLay does it, then it's corruption when Bernie Sanders does it."

Jon Copans, executive director of the state Democratic Party, declined to comment.

It seems funny to me that such a roar is being made. The FEC clearly has had the ability to restrict candidates from paying family, but has chosen not to. Congress has it within its power to prevent the practice--one that many lawmakers consider to not pass the smell test--but have failed to do so. Did DeLay cross the line--perhaps--but Congress and the FEC can fix it.

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