More than a dozen lawmakers put family on campaign payroll

More than a dozen lawmakers put family on campaign payroll
© Greg Nash

UPDATED at 2:13 p.m.:

More than a dozen lawmakers have family members on their campaign payrolls, raising eyebrows at a time when nepotism in Washington is under renewed scrutiny.

At least 13 members of Congress have paid family members from their campaign accounts so far this year, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data through the end of September.

Hiring immediate family members with campaign funds is legal as long as the salary payments amount to “bona fide, campaign related services,” according to the House Ethics Manual. But the practice draws criticism from those who say it’s a way to spend donor dollars to enrich family members.

“Family members being paid to work on a campaign essentially have to be doing the work that they’re paid for,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause. “It would be a violation of law for a member of Congress to give a family member a no-show job.”


The practice has also come under increased scrutiny since the election of President Trump, who installed his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner into top White House jobs. Neither takes a salary, but both wield significant power as senior advisers to the president. 

Lawmakers in both parties have family members on the payroll.

Soraida Gutiérrez, the wife of Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), has been paid $42,000 so far this year from the congressman’s campaign account, according to The Hill’s investigation. The congressman’s office declined to comment or provide additional details on her role with the campaign. 

Reps. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley: Trump turns up heat on Apple over gunman's phone | Mnuchin says Huawei won't be 'chess piece' in trade talks | Dems seek briefing on Iranian cyber threats | Buttigieg loses cyber chief House Democrats request briefings on Iranian cyber threats from DHS, FCC Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash MORE (D-Pa.) and Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump Fed nominee stirs controversy ahead of hearing Senators, bruised by impeachment, hunt for deals Plan to probe Bidens sparks GOP divisions MORE (R-N.D.) paid their spouses about $18,000 each, according to campaign filings reviewed by The Hill. Doyle and Cramer’s offices did not respond to multiple requests for additional information on their spouses’ roles in their campaigns.

The Hill’s analysis found that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-Calif.) wife, Rhonda, has taken a salary of $46,507 so far this year from his 2018 campaign account for managing his campaign.

A spokesman for Rohrabacher said the congressman would rather have trusted family members in campaign roles.

“It is not uncommon for spouses or other family members to perform official duties in campaigns. Indeed, there are no more trustworthy officials,” said Ken Grubbs, Rohrabacher’s spokesman.

Rohrabacher’s former campaign treasurer, Jack Wu, pleaded guilty in January to grand theft for embezzlement. He had embezzled more than $250,000 from Rohrabacher’s campaign treasury over the course of several years.

“Had Mrs. Rohrabacher — who managed other political campaigns before her marriage to the congressman — been working as treasurer, there would have been no embezzlement,” Grubbs said.

Kristin Barton is the daughter and campaign treasurer for Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonEx-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street Longtime GOP aide to launch lobbying shop Katie Hill resignation reignites push for federal 'revenge porn' law MORE (R-Texas). She is the highest-paid family member on any 2018 campaign, raking in $59,714 in 2017, according to The Hill’s review of campaign finance data.

Barton’s office said she used to work in the New York finance world and was hired because her father knows and trusts her.

Both Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingMother of child in viral meme sends Steve King cease-and-desist for using image in fundraising Nebraska Democratic Party Chair: Rural vote should be 'bedrock' of party With surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response MORE’s son and daughter-in-law are on the Iowa Republican’s campaign payroll.

Jeff King, who chairs his father’s campaign, has earned $48,750 this year. Jeff King’s wife, Lindsay, has been paid $24,320 for work as the campaign’s office manager this year, according to campaign data.

A King campaign spokeswoman said the congressman treats his campaign the same way Iowans treat their farms and hopes to involve his family in his work, citing the loyalty that family members bring to the table. She said that King’s donors had never complained about the congressman’s campaign staff.

Other members who selected their children for campaign roles include Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who has paid his son William $8,191.44 so far this year, The Hill’s review found. The Sessions campaign declined to specify his role but said that it prefers to hire internally.

“Our campaign has always worked to ensure that we are compliant with FEC standards. We have a history of employing an in-house person in this role who is responsible, trustworthy and more than capable to perform these duties for the campaign,” a Sessions campaign spokesman said.

The Hill’s review of FEC filings found that Rep. Collin Peterson’s son has made $29,367 working as campaign treasurer for the Minnesota Democrat, though Elliott Peterson is based in Tennessee.

“A CPA doesn’t know all the rules and a lawyer doesn’t know the bookkeeping, so to hire a firm that does this would cost us much more,” Peterson spokeswoman Allison Myhre told The Hill.

Rep. John DuncanJohn James DuncanLamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Tennessee New Members 2019 Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill MORE Jr.’s (R-Tenn.) son, John Duncan III, and son-in-law, Jason Brown, both take a salary from his campaign, according to a July report in The Nashville Post. Brown serves as Duncan's campaign treasurer.

The younger Duncan has cashed in a salary of $59,500 so far this year in checks made out to “American Public Strategies” and addressed to his house in Knoxville, Tenn. Brown has made $3,150 this cycle, according to FEC filings reviewed by The Hill.

In an email to The Nashville Post, John Duncan III said he had performed a number of responsibilities.

“I’ve had numerous duties including, but not limited to, running the campaign, fundraising, coordinating volunteers, organizing events, representing my Dad at various community events and functions, meeting with constituents on his behalf, writing statements on issues — both politically and policy related, researching policy, advising my Dad on issues, conducting polling, delivering speeches, writing letters to constituents, coordinating radio, television and direct mail advertising, and handling politically related correspondence that comes into both the Knoxville and Washington offices,” he said.

Hiring family members for the campaign isn’t limited to spouses and children.

Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreLawmakers with first-hand experience using food stamps call on Trump not to cut program Democratic convention host committee under investigation over concerns about 'work environment': report A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal MORE’s (D-Wis.) sister Brenda has taken home $38,715 this cycle, according to financial disclosures reviewed by The Hill. 

Regan Bonderman, Rep. Todd Rokita’s (R-Ind.) sister, has made $15,010 in campaign dollars so far, according to financial documents reviewed by The Hill.

"Regan is an essential member of our team," Rokita campaign spokesperson Nathan Brand said in an email to The Hill.

"She works at least 60 hours a week as our FEC compliance and database manager," he said. "She does better work for less than the campaign could ever obtain from an outside compliance firm."

The Hill also found that Rep. Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE’s (R-Fla.) sister-in-law Yvonne made $17,750. Roberta Cicilline-Dimezza works for her brother Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Hillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Democrats criticize FCC for not taking action against DC station broadcasting Russian disinformation MORE’s (D-R.I.) campaign and has made $2,700 so far this year, according to The Hill’s financial analysis.

Rich Luchette, a spokesman for Cicilline, said the representative’s sister oversees the charity arm of the campaign.

“She is compensated at a rate of $300 per month — well below what a professional firm would charge for these services,” the spokesman added.

Moore’s office declined to comment on the record. Buchanan’s office did not respond to multiple requests for additional information on Yvonne Buchanan’s campaign roles.

This story was updated Thursday afternoon to reflect information on Reps. Duncan and Rokita.