Who says that Congress is so hopelessly locked up in partisan warfare that they can’t accomplish anything useful? Well… I’m probably speaking too soon because they haven’t actually done it yet, but Congressman Pat Fallon of Texas and some like-minded colleagues have at least come up with a plan that looks promising. He’s just introduced the FIRE Act (Family Integrity to Reform Elections) and it could bring a much-needed dose of accountability and integrity to the electoral process, assuming it can be passed and withstand the scrutiny of the courts. (Two very big assumptions, I know.) The crux of the proposed legislation is that it would bar members of Congress from putting members of their families in paid campaign staffing positions or allow them to act as paid contractors who are paid from campaign contributions. We have some very notable members who are currently serving and have family members doing very well for themselves on the dime of the member’s donors. Fallon wants to put an end to that. (NY Post)
Republican members of Congress want to prevent their colleagues from putting family members on the campaign payroll after several prominent Democratic lawmakers have been called out over the practice.
The Family Integrity to Reform Elections (FIRE) Act, to be introduced by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) on Monday, would bar any candidate running for federal office from compensating immediate family members for campaign services.
“Maxine Waters [paid] $1.1 million to her daughter from campaign funds,” Fallon told The Post in a statement. “Ilhan Omar, $2.9 million to her husband from campaign funds. James Clyburn, over $200,000 to multiple family members from his campaign.”
As noted in the excerpt above, there are plenty of examples to draw on when discussing the need for this bill and we’ve covered some of them here in the past. Near the top of any such list, you would find Maxine Waters, whose daughter has raked in well over one million dollars for some vaguely defined “services” to her campaigns. Waters represents an uncompetitive district and barely has to show up to campaign to assure her seat every cycle. For more than 30 years, Maxine Waters has triumphed in every House race she has faced with more than 70% of the vote, sometimes reaching 80%.
A more recent but possibly even more famous example is Ilhan Omar. Her husband’s consulting firm cashed in for far, far more than Waters’ daughter did over multiple cycles, bringing down nearly three million dollars until she finally cut ties with his firm, perhaps out of embarrassment. Omar is similarly in a seat so safe that she could have farmed out her campaign consultant duties to a beagle found wandering the streets and likely achieved the same result at a cost of no more than a few bits of kibble.
To be sure, we have seen Republicans getting in on the action as well. They don’t seem to create the same splashy headlines like the ones I mentioned above, but campaign nepotism is a game that everyone can play.
The problem with Fallon’s bill is that it’s not clear if any of these bits of nepotism are technically illegal or if Congress can actually regulate the hiring practices of the members’ campaign staffers as opposed to their congressional staffers after they are seated. FEC regulations do not prohibit hiring family members if they are “providing bona fide services to the campaign” and if the payments can be considered a “fair market value of the services provided.” Those are some very vague and tenuous descriptions. The cost of staffers and contractors who work for campaigns can and does vary wildly depending on the experience and track record of the people being enlisted. And “bona fide services” could mean almost anything you want it to.
It will also likely be very difficult to get this bill introduced in the House, particularly when you consider the power and influence of some of the members who are currently benefitting from a lack of such restrictions. Perhaps, in the end, the only thing to do is to continue to name and shame those who are found doing it. Such a tactic never slowed Maxine Waters down, but Ilhan Omar did eventually throw in the towel.