WASHINGTON – Spouses don't belong on campaign payrolls, the House says, voting to end a practice that has benefited some members of Congress for years.
Monday's action follows controversies in which lawmakers added many thousands of dollars to their family incomes by hiring relatives for campaign tasks, even if their qualifications were not always apparent.
The practice "has shown the potential to foster corruption," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chief sponsor of the measure that was approved by voice vote after little debate.
The bill would bar a federal candidate's spouse from being paid by the candidate's campaign or leadership political action committee. The ban also would apply to companies or firms in which the spouse is an officer or director.
Campaign or PAC payments made to other immediate members of the candidate's family would have to be disclosed.
The bill was backed by several watchdog groups, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. In a recent report, the liberal organization found about five dozen current House members spent $5.1 million in campaign funds to pay relatives — or relatives' companies or employers — in the past six years.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, praised the House action but conceded the bill's prospects in the Senate are "probably very poor" because Senate rules make it easy to block measures that lack widespread support. Few lawmakers in either chamber will criticize the legislation openly, but some say privately it is unnecessary.
Schiff said some of his House colleagues "aren't enthusiastic about the change. But I think there's a grudging recognition that the institution has a real credibility problem."
Sloan said such legislation is likely to pass eventually because "there will be more abuses, and the abuses will come to light."
Numerous House and Senate members say their spouses, children or other close relatives do valuable campaign work that should be compensated. But some arrangements have raised eyebrows in recent years and become campaign issues in few cases.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, controlled a PAC that paid his wife and daughter several hundred thousand dollars in consulting fees and expenses over several years.
Current Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., drew controversy last year by using his wife, Julie, as his main fundraiser and paying her a 15 percent commission on donations she brought in rather than the flat fee often charged by fundraisers. Doolittle canceled the arrangement following his narrow re-election last fall.
Schiff said in an interview, "Without singling out specific members, the fact that some members were paying their spouses on a commission I think really struck most of us as completely inappropriate and an inherent conflict of interest."
California Democratic Reps. Bob Filner and Pete Stark have employed their wives for campaign work in the past. The campaign of Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, paid six of his eight children salaries of $1,000 to $33,000 over six years, CREW found.