Ft. Lauderdale, Fl USA
I agree, 'cat. Right now there are a whole bunch of Congressmen saying, "Oops!"
From USA Today.....today
Politics - USATODAY.com
DeLay has company in ethical gray areas
Wed Apr 27, 7:01 AM ET
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is defending himself against accusations of ethics violations by insisting he didn't do anything that fellow lawmakers haven't done. The Texas Republican has a point.
Like DeLay, dozens of lawmakers have paid family members to work for their campaigns. It's common to take privately financed "fact-finding" trips to resort locations, as DeLay did. And many members of Congress, particularly those in leadership roles or with presidential aspirations, pump money into state legislative races to enhance their influence.
But some critics contend that DeLay, who's under scrutiny over travel, fundraising and hiring of relatives for his campaign, has gone beyond the limits of what the rules allow. "He has pushed the envelope further than any other leader in contemporary times," says Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.
The controversy is calling attention to some gray areas in congressional ethics rules. Overall, personal ethics on Capitol Hill are more tightly regulated than ever. In 1995, Congress cracked down on lobbyist largesse. It prohibited any lawmaker from receiving gifts worth more than $100 a year from any single source. The same year, it required lobbyists to disclose who they work for and how much they are paid. And in 2002, a new campaign-finance law banned six-figure contributions that corporations and labor unions had been making to buy access to members of Congress.
But loopholes remain:
• Travel. Ethics rules bar lobbyists from buying a lavish dinner for members of Congress, or from paying for first-class plane tickets and hotel bills at luxury resorts. But lobbyists can do all of those things, and more, as part of a "fact-finding" trip.
Trips are the biggest loophole in the no-gifts rule.
Since 2000, more than $16 million in private money has been spent on 5,410 trips for about 600 members of Congress, according to an analysis by PoliticalMoneyLine, an online political data service. The study found that just over half the trips were financed by tax-exempt and other groups that are under no obligation to disclose sources of their funding.
"There are some great groups with great names that might not be so great when you find out who's behind them," says Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "We've got to do a better job policing ourselves."
•Relatives on the campaign payroll. Members of Congress aren't supposed to use campaign funds as a personal kitty. But donors' money can find its way into lawmakers' household budgets in the form of salaries paid to relatives.
DeLay put his wife, Christine, and daughter, Dani Ferro, on his campaign payroll. And he has plenty of company on Capitol Hill. An analysis of 2004 campaign spending by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics found that at least 35 members of Congress had relatives as paid campaign workers, most for fundraising, management or clerical services.
The practice has even been approved by the Federal Election Commission: In 2001, the FEC advised Rep. Jesse Jackson (news, bio, voting record) Jr., D-Ill., that he could retain his wife - a former congressional staffer with campaign experience - as a consultant so long as she was paid "no more than the fair market value" for her services. Other lawmakers have made similar arrangements for relatives without asking the FEC for a ruling.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., paid her husband's political consulting firm $180,025 for services, including campaign record-keeping and rent, in the 2003-04 election cycle. Rep. Richard Pombo (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., hired his wife and brother for his campaign and paid them a total of $229,000 over two years.
A 12-year-old law bars lawmakers from putting campaign money to personal use. But paying relatives out of campaign funds could skirt that law, says Norman Ornstein, an American Enterprise Institute scholar who studies Congress: "What you have is a situation where people can convert it to personal use by laundering it through their families."