What a deal. Your husband is a member of Congress. You’re his spouse and you start up a business raising money for his leadership PAC, and collecting a 15% commission on every dollar the PAC raises.
That’s the essential scenario for Congressman John T. Doolittle (R-Calif) and his wife Julie, and the details are spelled out on the front page of today’s Washington Post. The story also dwells on expensive gifts that Doolittle’s PAC – the Superior California Federal Leadership Fund – spent money on, but I’d like to focus today on that fundraising commission.
You can find an example of the expenditures on the OpenSecrets website here. When I added up the numbers this morning, I found just under $70,000 paid out in the current election cycle alone to “Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc.” of Oakton, Virginia. Sierra Dominion is the name of company run by Doolittle’s wife. As the Post explains:
All told, Julie Doolittle’s firm – run out of the couple’s home in Oakton with no phone listing or Web site and no other known employee – has received commissions totaling $169,146 since its founding in March 2001, according to FEC records and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The article cites a comment from Kenneth Gross, one of the capital’s most prominent money-and-politics lawyers (and former chief counsel at the FEC) that leadership PACs don’t have the same restrictions on “personal use” that regular campaign committees have.
Which makes me wonder, why not?
Fundraising is one of the biggest industries in Washington. More time and effort is spent wringing money out of donors seeking to boost their influence than almost anything else. Political fundraising events are held virtually every day (and night) that Congress is in town. Look at the contribution records of virtually any politician in Washington and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of contributions from every interest group under the sun – all with specific legislative agendas.
The only way that politicians have gotten away with such transparent conflicts of interest is because of the understanding – backed by bribery laws – that none of the money actually winds up in the pockets or bank accounts of the members themselves.
Whatever the fine print of federal election laws governing leadership PACs, Doolittle’s arrangement of paying his wife 15 percent of every dollar the PAC raises is a violation of that hands-off policy. The more his PAC raises, the richer his own household becomes.
I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t comment on the legalities of leadership PACs versus campaign committees. I am a citizen, though, and from that perspective this flat out stinks.