Politics & Policy

Family Ties

It's all in the family in D.C., for Dems, too.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Tom DeLay’s wife and daughter have been on his campaign reelection payroll for several years. What you may not have heard is that this is common practice in Congress, practiced by both parties, and perfectly legal.

When the New York Times splashed its front-page with a story chronicling the campaign employment history of DeLay’s family it alluded to other members with similar staffing, but left out any significant names or numbers. Through selective word exclusion the Times left the strong impression that this practice is somehow illegal or at least unethical.

While it’s true that over the past five years DeLay’s wife and daughter received approximately $500,000 in fees for their campaign labor contributions, the number was portrayed in a manner as to obscure the reality. Split between the two over the stated time period, DeLay’s wife and daughter received roughly $4,000 per month, or $50,000 per year, for their professional services, including management of his reelection campaign. In the world of political consulting that number is akin to a minimum wage. If anything, it shows that when it comes to paying their own families, most members of Congress are nothing if not frugal.

If paying families for campaign work is illegal, than prominent Democrats including Howard Dean, Barbara Boxer, Joe Lieberman, Jon Corzine, and Jesse Jackson Jr. should all be doing a Joe Wilson inspired “frog-march” from the halls of Congress.

DNC Chair Howard Dean’s younger brother runs the website Democracy for America (DFA), which was created by Dean last year to help manage his presidential campaign. Dean’s younger brother Jim also worked for DFA in its earlier incarnation, Dean for America, during the 2004 presidential primaries. However, in a letter to supporters this week, DFA attacked Tom DeLay for having family members on his payroll.

In 2003, Barbara Boxer directed $15,000 from her political-action committee, “PAC For a Change,” to a consulting firm run by her son. The year before, she funneled $115,000 to the same firm.

Last year, Joe Lieberman paid his son Matthew $34,000 and daughter Rebecca $36,000 to work on his presidential campaign.

Also last year, Jon Corzine paid his daughter about $15,000 to work on his upcoming 2006 reelection campaign.

In fact, in 2001 it was Jesse Jackson Jr. who sought clarification from the Federal Election Commission to ensure Jackson was in good legal graces before hiring his wife to provide fundraising and organizational support to his campaign.

Other Democrats with family members on the payroll include Pete Stark, Bart Stupak, Jim Costa, Lincoln Davis, and Tim Bishop, amongst others.

Vermont congressman Bernie Sanders has paid his wife and daughter more than $150,000 in campaign consulting fees in the past several years.

Democrat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is well known for supporting his family with high-paid congressional pork projects. Firms associated with Reid’s son have taken in millions from bills authored and sponsored by Reid.

Many members of Congress from both parties have relatives who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars as lobbyists, even though most had zero prior experience or expertise in the field before cashing in on their relative’s names and connections.

All of this is not to say “everybody does it,” so get off DeLay’s back. What it says is that so many members of Congress make use of their families in a professional capacity because it is perfectly legal and ethical, approved by both House rules and the FEC. The relevant binding rule concerning the employment of family members on election campaigns is that they must be paid for actual work, not simply for their relation to the candidate. In the examples cited above, all members, from both parties, have met with the regulation guidelines. Their family members are providing valuable work and probably being underpaid for their efforts.

So, why did the New York Times choose to single out DeLay in their coverage? As DeLay spokesman Dan Allen told NRO, “The fact that the New York Times singles out Tom DeLay on the front page shows how slanted they are.” And the Times is not alone. This week, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a list of congressional members who employ their relatives. The list naturally led with DeLay. It also excluded their home-state senator Barbara Boxer, who has risen in prominence this year to become one of the leading liberal voices of protest against the Bush administration.

Conservatives know it would be unrealistic to expect fair coverage from the media when it comes to matters such as this. Imagined scandals provide the instant gratification that fair and dispassionate reporting denies. And while it’s true that Tom DeLay is one of the most powerful Republican lawmakers, the New York Times and other leading media outlets, either through lazy reporting or by conscious decision, chose to ignore the similar and legal practices of leading Democrats. His critics, meanwhile, should save the outrage for actual scandals.

Eric Pfeiffer writes the daily “Beltway Buzz” column on NRO.


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