Blunt libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX, and outspoken liberal Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA, would seem to have little in common.
But Ron Paul and Maxine Waters do share at least one dubious distinction. They both like to put family members on the payroll.
In terms of numbers, Ron Paul has enriched more relatives – six — than any other House member over the past two election cycles.
Though Maxine Waters had just two relatives on the payroll, her daughter and her grandson, she was more generous than Paul. Waters showered her relatives with a combined $495,650, while Paul doled out $304,599.
The unlikely pair features prominently in a new report from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), "Family Affair," that details how 248 members of the House of Representatives have been using campaign funds to pad the pockets of their relatives and, in some cases, themselves.
And as is often the case with such Washington shenanigans, no rules were technically broken.
"A lot of what was done is legal, but a large segment of the contributing population would be surprised to see that their donations went straight into the pockets of congressional family members," Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, told the Los Angeles Daily News.
"There's all sorts of ways members of Congress can further their family's financial interests, which amounts to nepotism."
The widely known Ron Paul and Maxine Waters demonstrate that such practices are bipartisan, although Republicans cited in the CREW report do outnumber Democrats 143 to 105.
The key findings in the CREW report, which focuses on the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, paint a picture of lawmakers unabashedly using their positions to enrich family members as well as themselves:
- 82 representatives paid at least one relative a salary or fee;
- A total of 117 family members received such payments, which totaled $5.58 million;
- 90 representatives gave money to family businesses, employers, or associated nonprofits;
- A total of 118 family businesses or employers received such payments, which totaled $3.15 million.
- 69 representatives reimbursed family members for campaign expenses;
- 110 representatives reimbursed themselves for campaign expenses;
- 14 representatives earned interest on loans they made to their own campaigns.
Supplemental Income for the Rich
Many of the amounts that landed in family members' pockets were stunning.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-CA, paid his wife (and campaign manager) $238,438. Rep. Jerry Lewis R-CA, paid his wife $512,293. And Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-FL, paid his girlfriend a whopping $622,574.
Members of Congress only earn $174,000 a year, so the extra income no doubt helped make ends meet.
Money is so tight for some members of Congress that three representatives – Bill Cassidy, R-LA, Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, and Tim Walz, D-MN – used campaign funds to reimburse themselves and their wives for babysitting costs.
Other lawmakers patronized family businesses in a big way.
Maxine Waters sent a total of $347, 837 to her daughter's public relations firm, Progressive Connections. And Rep. Sue Myrick, R-NC, hired her stepdaughter's advertising firm for $408,818 worth of TV and radio ads.
Then there are the six Democrats and eight Republicans who charged interest on loans they made to their own campaigns.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX, for example, collected $25,000 by charging his campaign interest on a $100,000 loan over about 10 years.
"Often, candidates will loan money to their campaigns and then just take in the interest for years to come," CREW's Sloan said. "It's amazing how they'll allow the loan to linger while raking in the interest."
Ron Paul: "100% Above Board"
Although such activities veer close to violating House ethics rules, the vague language defining the violations makes it almost impossible to say for sure.
For their part, the lawmakers called out in the CREW report have offered no apologies.
"Everything that Dr. Paul has done in politics is 100% above board and any insinuation otherwise is completely off base," said Jesse Benton, Ron Paul's spokesman. Benton is also Paul's grandson, one of the six relatives listed in the CREW report.
Other members justified the hiring of family members by pointing to the work they did.
"Given their sacrifices, when appropriate and in accordance with federal law, my campaign will reimburse my campaign staff for any campaign-related expenses," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-TX, in a statement defending the efforts of his brother and niece.
Reyes reimbursed himself and family members a combined $404,889, the highest reimbursement figure in the CREW report.
In terms of remedies, CREW urged the House Ethics Committee to review the cases listed in its report. But Congress has proven very poor in the past at disciplining its own members, even in cases of flagrant violations.
And as the representatives have pointed out, nepotism does not actually break any rules.
"Some things that aren't illegal may still raise serious ethical questions," Sloan told The New York Times. "If donors really understood where their money is going, I think they would be aghast."
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