Congress’ “Jobs Program”—for Family Members at Nonprofits

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Galina Mikhalishina /

March 24, 2012; Source: New York Times

Contrary to public knowledge, Congress does have a jobs program underway—for its own family members. A new report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) details how the family members of more than half of Congress are benefitting from ties with their lawmaker relatives, including 82 House members who paid a total of 117 family members to work in their Congressional offices, campaign committees, and political action fund organizations. Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is paying the largest number of family members (six). Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) appears to be paying the most; Lewis paid his wife $512, 293 during both the 2008 and 2010 election cycles to work in his congressional office as his administrative assistant. But don’t think that this is an attack on a bunch of Republicans by a Democratic-leading watchdog. CREW also notes that Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) paid $$622,574 to his girlfriend and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) paid her daughter and grandson a combined total of $495,650; Waters’ grandson was paid for work as her congressional chief of staff.

Indeed, CREW lets the data lead wherever it does, which is ultimately to a picture of members of Congress from both political parties that are making their relatives gainfully employed, and comfortably compensated:

· 82 members (40 Democrats and 42 Republicans) paid family members through their congressional offices, campaign committees and political action committees (PACs).

· 90 members (42 Democrats and 48 Republicans) have paid a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit.

· 38 members (24 Democrats and 14 Republicans) earmarked funds to a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit.

As NPQ, we are of course especially interested in the funding and employment at nonprofits associated with the legislators. CREW’s report contained a variety of nonprofit tidbits such as these:

  • Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) paid his sister’s company and father’s scholarship fund a combined $303,847.
  • Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) earmarked $532,000 in FYs 2008, 2009, and 2010 to the University of Montevallo where his wife sits on the board of trustees.
  • Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) earmarked $1,815,623 to Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC) over those years when his wife served on the nonprofit’s board (until 2007) and his nephew served as the vice president for marketing (in 2008).
  • Rep. Jerry Lewis’s (R-Calif.) brother is director of governmental affairs for Loma Linda University Medical Center, which received more than $22.6 million in earmarks; the congressman’s son is on the board of the Lewis Center for Educational Research, named after the congressman, which scored a $2.4 million earmark in FY 2008.
  • Rep. Corrine Brown’s (D-Fla.) daughter is a lobbyist for Alcalde and Fey and succeeded in winning $939,000 in earmarks for her nonprofit client, the Community Rehabilitation Center of Jacksonville.
  • Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) arranged for $433,000 in earmarks for the College of Central Florida where his wife is vice president for institutional advancement.
  • Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) paid back the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation for the scholarships he had arranged in 2003 and 2005 for his stepdaughter and his niece.
  • The campaign committee of Rep. Phil Gingery (R-Ga.) donated $9,500 to the March of Dimes in Atlanta where his daughter has served on the board.
  • Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is the co-founder of Beloved Community Family Services, which received a $688,500 earmark in FY 2008 (when Rush served on the board).
  • With family members sprinkled throughout Notre Dame, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) has funneled the school millions in earmarks.
  • While a member of the board of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) funneled $743,000 in earmarks to the school.
  • Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) earmarked $324,000 to the South Boston Community Health Center that employs his wife as director of marketing and development.

There are plenty more. No one is saying these are bad nonprofit organizations, but they are receiving earmarks and benefits outside of the competitive process that others in their fields have to follow. In many cases, the presence of a family member working in these groups’ development, institutional advancement, or government relations shops creates the impression that the relationship with a sitting member of Congress was beyond helpful. –Rick Cohen