Family benefits from campaigns

More than two dozen members of Congress are paying family members thousands of dollars to work for their campaigns, according to a review of documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Although the practice is legal, it raises eyebrows among ethics watchdogs, who say it smacks of nepotism.

“The whole point of having candidates being able to accept large amounts of money from other people is that it is supposed to be used for an election campaign, not to line their own pockets or their families’ pockets,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Lawmakers argue their family members are well-qualified for the tasks they perform, but reform advocates contend the very appearance of nepotism is strong enough to merit a ban. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation to ban the practice, though it has gone nowhere.

“I have long supported restrictions on payments to family members from campaign funds, a practice that has led to abuses in the past,” Feingold said in a statement provided to The Hill. “It is an important issue and I hope Congress will address it.”

“What you have here is the ability of your contributors, whether it is to your leadership PAC [political action committee] or your campaign committee, to provide you money to pay your family,” McGehee added.

Rep. Bob Inglis’s (R-S.C.) wife Mary Anne earns about $2,000 a month for managing his race. He says the issue will police itself, and that anyone paying family members inappropriately will face consequences.

“The question is whether your family member is delivering value that your campaign contributors agree is a value,” he said. “If you’re not getting value for your campaign dollars, your donors will probably get tired of it, and they will probably stop giving.”

Like Inglis, many members hire family to help alleviate the burden of fundraising. Danielle Enzi, daughter-in-law of Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), makes $1,500 a month working for his Making Business Excel PAC. Enzi’s office says that is money well-spent.

Danielle Enzi “is by far the best fundraiser in Wyoming — the numbers show it — and [Sen. Enzi] is happy with her performance,” said Elly Pickett, the senator’s spokesman.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) also has an in-law on staff. His aunt, Beverly Ruppersberger, was a longtime volunteer before marrying the congressman’s uncle. She makes $24,000 a year as an administrative assistant for his campaign.

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) son Doug has managed her PAC for a decade, a spokesman said. Doug Boxer makes $6,000 a month, according to Federal

Election Commission (FEC) reports, and spokesman Zachary Coile said his work has built “one of the most successful [PACs] in the country.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) hired her brother, Jeffrey McMorris, to spearhead her campaign’s two major annual fundraisers. McMorris

Rodgers lives east of the Cascade Mountains, and Jeffrey organizes all her fundraising on the more populous west side of the state, a spokesman said, adding that he brings in far more than he is paid.

Having a family member on staff can give lawmakers peace of mind, especially after other members of Congress had their bank accounts robbed by former staffers. Former Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) accused his old campaign manager of stealing tens of thousands of dollars.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who pays his wife, Susan, a little more than $2,000 a month, says he hired “someone I trust completely” to handle his books.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) said he did not have to worry with daughter-in-law Jody Hall in charge of the books. “I trust her, that’s the main thing,” Hall said. Jody Hall receives about $2,900 a month.

Rep. Jim Costa’s (D-Calif.) cousin Ken, who has a background in accounting, earns $2,000 a month for similar work, while Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) pays his son a small stipend for keeping the campaign’s books.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) says he pays his son $2,000 a month to serve as his treasurer because he saves money that way. “He does it for less money than I could get anybody else to do it,” Peterson said.

For other members, their spouses or children actually manage their races.

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in his state’s Democratic primary, pays his brother and sister handsomely, according to FEC documents. Richard Sestak earns $6,000 a month, while Elizabeth Sestak pulls in $3,000. A Sestak spokesman credited the siblings and a cadre of volunteers for Sestak’s successful campaigns.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) also pays two family members. Daughter Lori Pyeatt makes about $600 a month as treasurer, while his granddaughter, Valori Benton, earns $2,300 a month to facilitate fundraising and manage the office.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) employs his son, Jeff, at $3,200 a month for managing his campaign. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who has won nine terms by wide margins, pays his wife Patricia $5,000 a month.

And Katharina Delahunt, Rep. Bill Delahunt’s (D-Mass.) ex-wife, who earns $2,200 a month, has managed the six-term Democrat’s campaign since he got into state politics in 1972 (Delahunt’s daughter, a professional photographer, also earned $410 in the last quarter for her services).

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) pays her nephew, Yannick Lebail-Sanchez, $1,700 a month to operate her campaign’s website and handle data entry. A spokeswoman called Yannick “exceptionally qualified for the jobs he performs and [he] earns every penny he is paid.”

Others did not offer explanations for family members’ salaries.

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) gives daughter Amy Towles $10,000 a year to run his PAC. A Bunning spokesman did not return calls.

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) paid sister Michelle Clay $19,000 for fundraising services. Clay’s office referred questions to the campaign, which could not be reached for comment.

Steve Stoddard and Nanette Light contributed to this article.