Bill would stop spousal campaign hiring like Rep. Doyle's
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WASHINGTON -- For U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, campaigning has become a family affair.
Since 2004, the Doyle for Congress Committee has paid $64,649 to Susan Doyle, the congressman's wife. In return, she has helped her husband organize fund-raisers, update a database of donors and comply with complicated federal reporting requirements.
"You want somebody you can trust, who has your best interests at heart," Mr. Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said last week.
"It's not a job you can just give to anybody."
The arrangement is in line with the rules of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Federal Election Commission. But that could change.
Last month, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., introduced a bill that would prohibit spouses of lawmakers from performing paid campaign work. It has the support of many members of the House Democratic leadership. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is a co-sponsor.
"It is part of an effort to raise the bar on campaign ethics," Mr. Schiff said.
He acknowledged that many lawmakers, including Mr. Doyle, closely follow the law. But high-profile cases of potential abuse, he said, have created the need for tighter rules.
One case involves the campaign committee of a fellow Californian, Rep. John Doolittle, a Republican from the northeastern corner of the state. His wife, Julie, performed much of the campaign's fund raising until this year, earning a 15 percent commission for every donation she acquired, according to The Associated Press.
In 2006, she was paid more than $100,000 out of the campaign's coffers.
The Justice Department also is investigating payments Mrs. Doolittle received from jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
A June report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, demonstrates the prevalence of House members who use their campaign committees to employ family members.
It looked at 337 members who serve in leadership positions or top posts on committees. It found that 64 of them -- 26 Democrats and 38 Republicans -- paid relatives through their campaign committees or political action committees over the past three election cycles.
Those numbers don't include Mr. Doyle, who first won his seat in 1994.
After the 2000 census, the Republican-controlled state Legislature redrew Pennsylvania's congressional districts, pushing Mr. Doyle into the same territory as Rep. Bill Coyne, D-Oakland. Mr. Coyne retired, avoiding a potentially messy primary fight with Mr. Doyle.
Since then Mr. Doyle has faced little competition in the consolidated 14th Congressional District, an overwhelmingly Democratic area that covers the city of Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley. He was unopposed in 2002 and 2004. Last year, he easily defeated poorly funded opponents in both the primary and general elections.
Despite his hold on the seat, Mr. Doyle still needs a sizeable pot of money to satisfy party obligations. Each two-year election cycle he must pay $250,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats. He also is expected to donate money to the party's vulnerable candidates.
Mr. Doyle's fund raising has seen a significant bump since his wife came on board during 2004. He raised $674,812 in 2002, $670,111 in 2004, and $923,775 last year. His top donors are unions.
Kieloch Consulting, a Washington, D.C., firm, assists Mr. Doyle with his fund-raising activities in the capital.
Before 2004, Mr. Doyle tried to do most of his local fund raising on his own, with the help of a volunteer. But he often found himself overwhelmed.
"I was up at 3 a.m. working on reports," he said. "I was miserable."
Mrs. Doyle, the congressman's wife of 32 years -- and his prom date when he was a senior at Swissvale High School -- had been raising the couple's four children. But, with their youngest daughter nearing the end of high school, she had more time for campaign work. She also possessed computer skills that could help Mr. Doyle improve the fund-raising process.
Under FEC regulations, campaign committees can employ lawmakers' relatives if the pay matches the market rate for the type of work.
Mrs. Doyle receives about $1,800 per month, according to campaign finance reports filed this month. She doesn't receive any commission.
"Although it's not illegal, it's problematic," said Naomi Seligman Steiner, a spokeswoman for CREW, which has endorsed Mr. Schiff's bill. "The payments for her job go right back into the Doyle household."
Some states have already outlawed the practice, including Texas, where it is a misdemeanor for elected officials or candidates to use political contributions to make payments to spouses or children.
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Luzerne, has used his campaign committee to pay rent to K&K Real Estate, a firm that he and his brother own together, the CREW report says.
Mr. Doyle questions the need for Mr. Schiff's proposed law, noting that all the money involved comes from private donors, not taxpayers. And his contributors know that his wife works with him, he said.
"This is completely done by the books," Mr. Doyle said. "They know her well and they know what she does."
First Published July 22, 2007 10:53 pm