Who says that pork-barrel politics are passé? Raphael Warnock may be a newbie to the US Senate, but he knows how to bring home the bacon — and put it in his own pocket. Alana Goldman reveals a strange series of coincidences at the Washington Free Beacon that start with Joe Biden’s wildly inflationary American Rescue Plan, and ends with Warnock’s church and Warnock himself getting a windfall:
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) voted for a COVID-19 relief bill that steered $75,000 to a nonprofit social justice group he founded that’s run by the church that supplements his Senate salary to the tune of more than $100,000, according to government records.
The Martin Luther King Sr. Collaborative, a community activist group that Warnock led as CEO until at least 2020, sought and received COVID relief funding from the American Rescue Plan in September 2021, according to Georgia financial records. The Martin Luther King Sr. Collaborative was founded by the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Warnock is still employed as lead pastor and which paid him $120,000 last year in addition to his Senate salary. …
“We were able to deliver on our promise to Georgia to pass historic COVID-19 relief. Georgia in a very real sense is delivering relief to the whole country,” Warnock said at the time, calling the bill “historic legislation.”
The funding raises questions about whether Warnock or his employers used Warnock’s position as a senator to benefit from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that some leading economists have blamed for skyrocketing inflation. Americans for Public Trust, an ethics watchdog group, said the federal relief funding adds to concerns that Warnock’s outside work poses a financial conflict.
Warnock gets $120K a year as lead pastor of a church? That must be an impressive collection plate. Of course, it helps when you arrange for the church to get $75,000 in grant money.
But how exactly does Warnock get that much cash? House and Senate rules cap outside income to 15% of official salaries, which is $174,000 a year for senators. That should limit Warnock to no more than $26,100 in salary from other sources. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that Warnock uses a dodge to get around the cap by calling this a housing allowance for his work as pastor, or as his campaign calls it, a “personal parsonage allowance”:
Ethics rules limit how much U.S. senators can earn in addition to their $174,000 government salary. But the housing payments — the campaign calls it a “personal parsonage allowance” — are not subject to that cap, the Senate Ethics Committee said. Warnock’s disclosure form includes a footnote that says the committee staff reviewed the parsonage benefit and signed off on it.
Warnock has remained the head pastor at Ebenezer while he serves in the Senate. Before his election, he earned a salary and benefits worth about $200,000 a year from the church. That was adjusted after he was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2021, disclosures show.
Warnock received $120,964.59 in salary and benefits during 2021. The housing allowance amounts to $89,000 of that, his campaign said.
Needless to say, even if this passes muster under the letter of the ethics rules, it stinks nonetheless. An annual $120,000 “housing allowance” is a salary, a clear pecuniary interest that the ethics rules clearly intends to prevent. These rules exist to keep senators and representatives from owing more allegiance and fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers rather than outside employers.
And why? To prevent precisely this outcome. Would Warnock have voted for this bill even without the grant to the employer giving him a six-figure compensation plan? Surely. Would the grant exist to his church even without them paying Warnock $120,000 a year? Probably. But now it looks like Warnock not only conducted a payoff to his outside employer by voting for this bill, it looks like he’s pocketing the cash himself by reimbursing the church for his “parsonage allowance” through government grants.
How many other such grants has Warnock arranged? Did Ebenezer get anything out of the bipartisan infrastructure bill? How about the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act”?
Perhaps those are questions Georgia voters should be asking in the next two months as Warnock argues for a full term in the Senate. How much more money will Warnock spend, and how much farther will he drive up inflation through bills like the American Rescue Plan, to put cash in Ebenezer’s bank accounts — and by extension his own?