96 members of Congress paying family members
More than one in four members of Congress who hold top positions on committees and subcommittees or are in the House Leadership have used their position to enrich family members, according to a watchdog's investigation.
Lawmakers employed family members on campaign committees and used campaign funds to pay family businesses or contribute to relatives among other methods that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says warrants an investigation.
In its report, CREW identified 96 members of Congress* -- 41 Democrats and 55 Republicans -- who used their positions to financially benefit family members. CREW, a Washington-based watchdog group that promotes openness in government, focused on the 337 House committee or subcommittee chairs and ranking members, along with the five leadership positions. It examined campaign finance records from the 2002, 2004 and 2006 election cycles.
CREW notes much of the financial arrangements it uncovers are legal. A candidate can employ his wife or brother as a campaign aide as long as the relative is paid fair market value for the real work they contribute to the campaign.
The investigation was unable to determine a relatives' qualifications in the 64 cases of lawmakers paying family members through their campaign committees or PACs, CREW said.
Members of Congress contributed to family members' financial interest in amounts ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, according to the investigation.
Among the top spending lawmakers, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., used more than $350,000 of campaign funds for accounting and fundraising services from firms controlled by her husband. Lofgren told USA Today that her husband's firm did superior work, but he has since dissolved the firm.
"People didn't feel comfortable with it ... if you have to use more than two sentences to explain it, that doesn't work," Lofgren told the newspaper. She said she supports a bill introduced this month that would prohibit candidates from using campaign accounts to pay spouses and would heighten disclosure of other family relationships with campaign staff.
CREW's report notes that members of Congress can't hire spouses or other family members to work in their congressional offices. The group says the logic should be the same for campaign committees, which can rake in huge sums of money from an array of individual donors and political action committees.
The group's executive director, Melanie Sloan, said the report "shines a spotlight on the troubling practice of lawmakers using their congressional positions as profit centers for family members."
Several presidential candidates made it to CREW's list, including Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; and Ron Paul, R-Texas. Hunter and Paul each spent more than $100,000 in salaries and reimbursements to family members, while Kucinich paid his cousin more than $35,000 for campaign consulting and fundraising between 2002 and 2004.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the party affiliations of the members of Congress identified in CREW's report.