Is Congress A Family Business, Round Two


It's your last chance to investigate the 109th Congress before Election Day! Who else besides Julie Doolittle has a company that works for her spouse's campaign? How many federal contractors employ spouses of members of Congress? Have nonprofits that receive part of their funding from congressional appropriations hired spouses of members? It's up to you to find out! Round Two of "Is Congress a Family Business" is now online! Thanks to our too modest Web design genius, it's still as slick and user friendly as round one. This time some of the information we're looking for will be more challenging to find, but if you follow the step-by-step instructions, you should be able to help investigate a member of Congress in less than five minutes! Once again we’re looking at the House of Representatives, this time investigating what I like to call the Sierra Dominion phenomenon—that of congressional spouses who work for a firm that in turn works for the member's campaign. Sierra Dominion Financial Resources is the name of the firm whose sole employee is the wife of Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., Julie Doolittle. Sierra Dominion Financial Services, has been paid more than $60,000 for “fundraising commissions” by Doolittle’s campaign since January 1, 2005. (That’s not all Sierra Dominion did, of course—it also took money from one of the lobbying firms Jack Abramoff worked for, Greenberg, Traurig, as well as fundraising commissions from a PAC associated with Doolittle—for more information, visit the authoritative Congresspedia entry here.) Our intrepid citizen journalists have already found 19 members who've paid their spouses more than $630,000 directly from campaign contributions. Now, using the excellent new financial disclosure database from the Center for Responsive Politics, we'll search CRP's campaign expenditure information for indirect payments from special interests to family budgets. As an added bonus, we’re also going to see find out whether spouses work for firms that get federal contracts or grants. Using, the new database built by our friends at OMB Watch that tracks government contracts and grants, we'll see whether organizations that employ spouses of members of Congress are seeking federal funds. I’m not quite sure what we’ll find, but that’s part of the fun. Are members' spouses working for institutions that are seeking scarce federal grant dollars? Are companies with spouses of members of Congress on the payroll seeking federal contracts from executive branch agencies? This is the first step in finding out–and one of the first big research efforts using OMB Watch's cool new tool for government transparency. A quick note on the next step for this part of the project: We're going to try to find a way to open up the verification, reporting and writing process to citizen journalists as well as the front end research. We're hoping to offer new opportunities for more involved participation. So if you want to go beyond this opening round of research, we'd like to enlist your help for further research. The goal will be to take what we find, and find out more about it, and publish our findings. Remember—this is the last chance to investigate this Congress before the election. Have at it, and of course we hope you have some fun doing it!