What Constitutes an Ethics Violation of Nepotism in Campaign Funds
A recent post caught my eye concerning Luis Gutierrez and allegations of misuse of campaign funds to pay his wife a salary. I am at times quick as many to point out inadequacies and allegations of wrongdoing; however, I also realize that this has to be a factual allegation, researched, and reported fairly (unlike some MSM so-called reporters).
Democrats have successfully badgered Republicans and vice versa on this for a very long time. The problem is that there is not a clear, decisive formal ruling that NO funds can be paid to family members simply because there are ifs, maybes, and possibilities based upon individualized circumstances.
The FEC decided more than a decade ago on some parameters on this issue. According to the Federal Election Commission there are instances where the funds can be paid and approved for legitimate salary payments. The Gober Group also goes into a bit of detail on this.
Salary payments to candidate’s family
Campaign funds may be used to make salary payments to members of the candidate’s family only if:
The family member is providing a bona fide service to the campaign, and
The payments reflect the fair market value of those services.
Any salary payments to family members in excess of the fair market value constitute personal use.
In the case of Mr. Gutierrez, his wife has been his campaign manager for years and as such has been paid a reasonable salary per year for her services. Reasonable being found by using a Campaign Managers Pay Scale for Chicago area where median salary is about $55,000 per year for campaign managers. This does not mean I agree with Mr. Gutierrez simply that we have to advance our arguments based on reliable facts and understanding which appears to be in short supply from more liberals than conservatives though both run afoul at times.
What is Not allowed though are receipt of funds or payments which seem to be used as bribes or for personal needs and travel–things that any person should cover from their own bank accounts like insurance, investments, dentists, clothing, or excessive gifts for political or other reasons…like expensive jewelry to a “companion” or another politician.
USA Today did an article back in March 2013 on this topic called “Lawmakers add relatives to campaign payrolls.”
According to that article:
Thirty-two members of Congress dispensed more than $2 million in campaign funds to pay relatives’ salaries during the 2012 election cycle, a USA TODAY analysis of the most recent campaign records shows.
Lawmakers have hired their children, spouses, aunts, parents and in-laws as consultants, accountants and record keepers, the examination shows. In some cases, multiple members of the family joined the payroll.
The payments to relatives do not involve taxpayer money, and the practice is considered legal as long as the relatives are qualified and earn market rate for their work. Although federal candidates have wide leeway in spending campaign funds, they cannot use contributors’ money for personal expenses. However, campaign-finance watchdogs argue there’s potential for conflict when political contributions — some from industries that lawmakers’ regulate — end up supporting family members.
They specifically mentioned a few names in question such as Rep. Rodney Alexander, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, Sen. Mark Kirk, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and Jessie Jackson, Jr to highlight issues arising from nepotism allegations. Payments to spouses came under intense scrutiny in 2006 after it emerged that then-congressman John Doolittle, R-Calif., was paying the fundraising firm run by his wife. The House voted to ban campaign payments to spouses in 2007, but the measure died in the Senate. (of course, I can’t imagine why..snark) and then, the issue was basically dropped.
Like all issues there are two sides.
In the case of the campaigners, it boils down to a better use of donor funds and a trust issue. Why pay some contracted firm who may or not be well-known to the campaigner to do what a qualified family member can just as easily do for less? Contracted firms run in the hundreds of thousands when a qualified member can only receive less than a hundred thousand generally. Then there is the trust issue, family members (hopefully) can be better trusted to keep information and activities “closer to the vest” than some unknown entity.
The issue at that point is the qualifications and ability of the family member to provide proper services. This is the point at which nepotism charges can and rightfully should be raised. If a family member is in charge of say accounting, management, or legal assistance, are they really proficient enough to do so? Do they understand the legal parameters under which they can use funds? Is it them as individuals or as part of a business that are providing the assistance? If a business, has the campaigner actually given other such businesses consideration? Perception of wrongdoing or opening for bribery or other legal issues might then be leveled.
Also in question as mentioned above is the fact that government really has no leg to stand on to object since campaigns are not supposed to ever receive taxpayer funds–except as a complaint might become a legal issue and end in criminal charges. The leveling of ethics charges can and probably should be found in congressional Ethics Committee review at this point though I am out of my element in understanding the steps FEC or the Ethics Committees practice.
What happens if FEC is concerned?
When FEC after reviewing submissions of donors and expenses discovers strange and unacceptable payments or businesses and such being found under the guise of campaign payments then they go on alert–things like multiple charges, charges during especially inactive periods of time between elections, vacation-type charges, or any number of other “incidentals.” Then the FEC is responsible for reporting the issues and following up. The FBI is also involved. In fact, there are several right now that the FBI is investigating for such abuses.
OpenSecrets has an interesting April 2016 article by Will Tucker that adds a sarcastically funny twist to FEC and its inner workings that some might find interesting. It is called “No issue too small to create a standoff at the FEC.”
For the constantly sniping trios of Republicans and Democrats on Federal Election Commission, any molehill can be made a mountain — even a question of whether to use the word “a” or “the” in regulations.
However, before proceeding to level charges more than a quick foray has to be done. Complaints come into the FEC quite often on campaign groups and all have to be initially investigated but legal actions and cases are only opened if the FEC finds according to their own” transparency rules” actual reasons for further checks.
Investigating politicians is important. It can not be taken lightly as we are currently seeing across the MSM spectrum. How that reporting is done and the “ethics” of the reporter are just as important. Well done and researched reporting is a good thing to help the public stay aware and informed as well as to keep our elected officials honest and transparent.
The constitution recognized just how serious the trade is in maintaining a republic. It is a shame collegiate level journalism no longer teaches and we in the public no longer receive the benefit from non-partisan investigative reporting.
Just adding my two cents.