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House members keep funds in the family

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Kai Ryssdal: Federal law prohibits members of Congress from hiring family members to work in their offices on Capitol Hill. But the letter of the law is a good deal fuzzier when it comes to how lawmakers can spend their campaign cash.

A report out today details how scores of members in both parties have used campaign funds to enrich their relatives. Marketplace’s Steve Henn explains.

Steve Henn: Seventy-two members of the House of Representatives have paid their own relatives more than 5 million bucks to work on their congressional campaigns in the past six years. That’s according to a report released today by CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Melanie Sloan is CREW’s executive director:

Melanie Sloan: Members of Congress are public servants. And they’re not supposed to be using their position to be a profit center for their entire family.

Sloan says the problem’s bipartisan — it involves 30 Democrats and 43 Republicans. Some spouses cleared more than a quarter of a million bucks in six years. Seven members of the House paid their kids to work in their campaigns.

Chris Cannon, a Republican from Utah, has employed 6 of his 8 children in his campaigns. He’s paid them almost $70,000 in total.

Fred Piccolo: He kind of jokingly says, you know, they’re cheap labor.

Fred Piccolo is Cannon’s communications director:

Piccolo: You know, his children worked very hard on his campaigns — they’ve been involved in every one of them. And he believes they shouldn’t go unpaid just because he’s their father.

While some find these payments unseemly, they are perfectly legal — at least, for now.

Congressman Adam Schiff introduced a bill earlier this month that would end payments to spouses and require immediate disclosure whenever a member of Congress hires a family member for his or her campaign.

Adam Schiff: I think the practice of employing spouses to do campaign work in particular has been so abused that it just has to be stopped.

Crew plans to dig into Senate campaigns next.

In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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