Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) emerged this week atop a list of congressional representatives who've paid family members fees and salaries from their campaign war chests, congressional offices and political action committees, with one ethics advocacy group highlighting him for paying more of his relatives over the last two election cycles than any other member of the House.
The iconoclastic Texas libertarian has been on the campaign trail almost perpetually since his failed run at the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, taking in more than $34 million in the 2011-12 election cycle alone. While he's already spent most of that, with just $2.5 million on hand as of his last Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing, a total of $304,599 went to six of Paul's relatives, according to an analysis of public disclosures released Thursday by the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
That dubious distinction means Paul paid more of his family members than any other person in Congress, although other representatives paid fewer relatives even higher dollar amounts.
CREW noted that between 2008 and 2012, his campaign committee paid salaries to "his daughter, his grandson, his daughter’s mother-in-law, his granddaughter, his grandson-in-law, and another relative." They add that his campaign also reimbursed Paul, several other relatives, and paid his brother's accounting firm for various services. CREW added that his political action committee, Liberty PAC, also reimbursed some of Paul's expenses, paid his brother's accounting firm and employed his daughter.
On the list of the highest-paying members, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) earns the top spot, having shelled out an astonishing $622,674 in the last two election cycles to his girlfriend. He's followed on CREW's list by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who paid his wife $512,293; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who paid her daughter and grandson $495,650; and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), who paid his wife $238,438.
Overall, CREW said that a total of 82 House members paid more than $5.5 million to their family members. Even more than that, 90 representatives contributed to family businesses or the employers of family members, sending those entities a total of $3.1 million.
The issue of unusually high payments to family members is not a partisan one, either: CREW said that 40 Democrats and 42 Republicans shelled out for family through their congressional offices, campaign committees and political action committees.
The group also noted the point of their report is not to call into question the practice of legitimate reimbursements for campaign expenses, or the paying of salaries required to operate a campaign, but to highlight the problem of the government's "toothless" campaign finance watchdog.
"Because of the potential for abuse, this report highlights members with unusually large amounts of reimbursements, some of which raise questions of whether members of Congress are converting campaign funds to personal use."
Read the whole report (PDF).