Monday, April 10, 2006

Cool! Sweeney in the Sacramento Bee

Oh, wait, it's not so cool, if you're Sweeney.

You see, Sweeney is only one of two members of Congress who allows his spouse to skim off fundraising.

Editorial: Doolittle must lead by example on ethics debate -
" Published 2:15 am PDT Sunday, April 9, 2006
Story appeared in Forum section, Page E6

As a member of the House leadership team, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, should be setting an ethical tone in Congress.

Yet Doolittle's pushing the envelope continues to prompt questions about just how separate his campaign funds are from his family's enrichment. The law says candidates may not divert campaign funds to personal use. It names a wide range of prohibited uses: household items, funeral expenses, housing payments, for example. Salary payments to family members are prohibited - unless they are no more than the fair market value of bona fide campaign services.

Sell It Yourself

The rules say nothing about commission payments to family members - and that is where Doolittle has pushed the envelope. His wife gets a 15 percent commission on contributions that come to his campaign committees. News accounts to date find only one other member of Congress doing this. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., pays his wife a 10 percent commission for campaign fundraising.

Both men serve on the Appropriations Committee, so donors practically throw themselves at their doors hoping political contributions will win face-to-face access. A fundraiser doesn't have to do much.

Commission payments going directly into the household income of the Doolittles and Sweeneys skirt the spirit of the law. Some other members of Congress - about 50, according to news accounts - have family members on their campaign payrolls. But news accounts to date find only Doolittle and Sweeney giving their wives a percentage of political donations. Doolittle cannot say 'everybody does it.' He and Sweeney are outliers.

The Doolittle camp claims that the Federal Election Commission 'put its official stamp of approval on such arrangements' in a 2001 advisory opinion. Not true. The FEC ruling referred only to 'salary payments,' not commissions, and made it clear that a family member must have the qualifications of a bona fide professional. Most important, the contract must conform to 'standard industry practice' between paid consultants and candidate committees. That is the crux of the matter.

Does Julie Doolittle have fundraising experience and expertise? Where is the record that she is doing or has done fundraising for other political campaigns? We don't see it. She set up her business, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, just two months after her husband won a seat on the Appropriations Committee.

Does her 15 percent commission conform to standard industry practice? In 2004, Doolittle's opponent raised only $2,300 and won only 35 percent of the vote. For that kind of race, a paid fundraiser is hardly necessary. Yet Doolittle amassed more than $1 million in contributions. Were the Doolittles driving up contributions to benefit the family income more than to thwart an underfinanced opponent?

Fundraisers do not typically work on commission. The trend is toward a fee, based on the difficulty of the campaign.

Doolittle may have found ambiguity in the law that allows him to get around the prohibition on personal enrichment. But his 15 percent arrangement is unseemly.

Campaign contributions are supposed to help candidates win elections, not line their pockets. In this post-Tom DeLay era, Doolittle needs to show ethical leadership by example and end this unacceptable practice."
Well, if you count the 10% Sweeney's wife got, then Kirsten netted about the same as Sweeney.


Blogger baby blue said...

Looks like we're dealing with the same kind of crooked Congressman.

Dump Doolittle

3:52 PM  

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