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House Members Vote to Bar Their Spouses From Campaign Jobs

Spouses don't belong on campaign payrolls, the House says, voting to end a practice that for years has benefited some members of Congress, including a half-dozen Californians.

Spouses don't belong on campaign payrolls, the House says, voting to end a practice that for years has benefited some members of Congress, including a half-dozen Californians.

Monday's action follows controversies in which lawmakers added many thousands of dollars to their family incomes by hiring relatives for campaign tasks, even if their qualifications were not always apparent.

One of the most prominent controversies surrounded GOP Rep. John Doolittle of Northern California, who canceled the payments to his wife, Julie, after coming dangerously close to losing re-election last November.

The practice "has shown the potential to foster corruption," said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of Pasadena, Calif., chief sponsor of the measure that was approved by voice vote after little debate.

The bill would bar a federal candidate's spouse from being paid by the candidate's campaign or leadership political action committee. The ban also would apply to companies or firms in which the spouse is an officer or director.

Campaign or PAC payments made to other immediate members of the candidate's family would have to be disclosed.

The bill was backed by several watchdog groups, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. In a recent report, the liberal organization found about five dozen current House members spent $5.1 million in campaign funds to pay relatives - or relatives' companies or employers- in the past six years.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, praised the House action but conceded the bill's prospects in the Senate are "probably very poor" because Senate rules make it easy to block measures that lack widespread support. Few lawmakers in either chamber will criticize the legislation openly, but some say privately it is unnecessary.

Schiff said some of his House colleagues "aren't enthusiastic about the change. But I think there's a grudging recognition that the institution has a real credibility problem."

Sloan said such legislation is likely to pass eventually because "there will be more abuses, and the abuses will come to light."

Numerous House and Senate members say their spouses, children or other close relatives do valuable campaign work that should be compensated. But some arrangements have raised eyebrows in recent years and become campaign issues in few cases.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, controlled a PAC that paid his wife and daughter several hundred thousand dollars in consulting fees and expenses over several years.

Doolittle drew criticism last year by using his wife as his main fundraiser and paying her a 15 percent commission on donations she brought in rather than the flat fee often charged by fundraisers.

Schiff said in an interview, "Without singling out specific members, the fact that some members were paying their spouses on a commission I think really struck most of us as completely inappropriate and an inherent conflict of interest."

According to CREW's report, other California lawmakers who have employed their spouses for campaign work are: Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino; Bob Filner, D-San Diego; Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach; and Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

At least two of them, Lofgren and Stark, announced recently that they've canceled those arrangements.

A number of other California lawmakers have employed other family members on their campaigns, according to CREW.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-North Hollywood, paid his brother for political consulting. Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad, paid his daughter and cousin. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, employed a cousin. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, employed his daughter-in-law.

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, paid two grandchildren for consulting. Rep. Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar, paid his sons. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, hired her daughter for fundraising consulting. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, employed two children.