Dick Morris may be overstating it a bit by calling it “Obama’s First Blunder”, but the Illinois senator’s recent vote opposing a reform that would ban Congressional spouses from collecting a salary from a lawmaker’s political action committee does seem like easy attack-ad fodder:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who opposes wives cashing in on their husbands’ positions, voted righteously in favor of the reform and will probably use the Illinois senator’s vote against him in the presidential primaries.
When a legislator hires his or her spouse on the campaign or PAC payroll, he is effectively converting contributions to his campaign committee into personal income that flows into the family’s checking account, blurring the line between contribution and bribe.
In the past, senators and House members routinely hired their spouses and other family members on their public payrolls. In the early 1940s, for example, Harry S. Truman hired his wife, Bess, to work on his Senate staff. She got $2,500 a year in salary at a time when senators themselves only earned $8,500. But nepotism on the public payroll is now banned.
So inventive congressmen and senators have filled the void by hiring family on their campaign or PAC payrolls. Hiring family members and paying them with campaign donations is, if anything, more pernicious than doing so with public funds. Where tax money is involved, the sin is against the taxpayer for wasting his funds. But where campaign contributions are involved, the congressman is profiting personally from the largesse of special interest donors. In plain English, that’s a payoff.
(Morris does slip the knife in there quite subtly in that first paragraph, doesn’t he?)
Still, for a guy like Obama whose signature accomplishment in his first two years in Congress was an attempt at earmark reform, it’s an odd, and avoidable mistake to wish to preserve spousal employment in collecting donations.