Eye On Boise

Labrador puts wife on campaign payroll, says move saves money for 'frugal' campaign

Freshman Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador has put his wife, Becca, on his campaign payroll with a monthly salary - a practice that, while legal, has drawn much criticism since a 2006 congressional scandal. Labrador defends it, saying he has "the most frugal campaign in the state."

In 2007, the House voted to ban campaign payments to congressional spouses other than reimbursement for travel expenses, but the bill died in the Senate. The issue came under scrutiny in 2006 after then-Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., was discovered to be paying his wife Julie, a professional fundraiser, a 15 percent commission on all contributions to his leadership PAC and additional commissions on fundraising for his campaign, adding up to close to $140,000 between 2003 and 2006. He abandoned the practice the next year, and after being investigated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, left office in 2010.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was among those who subsequently came under scrutiny from the press and watchdog groups for paying his wife, Susan, $78,514 between 2000 and 2006, for everything from organizing campaign events to driving the senator to them. Crapo still pays his wife for campaign work for both his leadership PAC, the Freedom Fund, and his campaign, spokesman Lindsay Nothern said. However, his campaign finance reports for the past year show no payments to Susan Crapo; his PAC reports show she was paid $4,677 from Jan. 1 to July 31 this year, mostly for expense reimbursements and gift bags she prepared for donors.

Labrador has paid his wife a $2,050 monthly salary since May to keep the campaign's books and submit FEC reports; under FEC rules, members of Congress can pay spouses through their campaigns or PACs - though not through their congressional offices - as long as they provide "bona fide services" and the payments reflect the fair market value of the services.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a watchdog group that focuses on campaign finance and consumer issues, said the practice long has been common, but said, "It still raises ethical concerns, because that means some of the campaign money is going directly into the family pockets." Those funds include money from PACS and lobbyists pushing for the members' attention on pending issues.

The other two members of Idaho's congressional delegation, 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Jim Risch, don't pay their spouses for campaign work. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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