In D.C., It’s All Relative


Members of Congress, often hard-pressed for campaign funds, are finding that family members, especially wives, can play a valuable role in advancing their political careers. Adding to Tom DeLay’s troubles, for example, are revelations that wife Christine and daughter Danielle Ferro were paid $500,000 beginning in 2001 for working on the embattled Texas congressman’s campaign and political action committees. Christine also worked for a lobbying firm that got client referrals from Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the center of a growing scandal on Capitol Hill. (A DeLay attorney said there is no connection between Christine’s private job and working on DeLay’s campaign.) The revelations infuriated DeLay, who defended paying the women money, saying, “My wife and daughter have any right, just like any other American, to be employed and be compensated for their employment. It is not unusual or illegal for lawmakers to put relatives on the campaign payrolls as long as they work for the money.”

They don’t necessarily have to be on the payroll, either. The most glaring example is Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t elected to anything, but her husband set her up as the most powerful (and with the health-insurance fiasco, destructive) lobbyist in the capital. Leaving Washington, then returning as senator, Hillary amassed a treasure trove in campaign funds and IOUs by the zillions for favors done.

In the Abramoff scandal, prosecutors have zeroed in on the wives of several different congressmen who they believe may have taken payoffs.

In one case, The Washington Post reports, California congressman John Doolittle’s former chief of staff, Kevin Ring, was employed by Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff’s firm. In that capacity, according to Post sources, Ring was responsible for getting the firm to hire Julie Doolittle, the congressman’s wife, to do fundraising for a charity. Doolittle’s firm, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc., was subpoenaed by a grand jury investigating Abramoff. Doolittle and his wife have emphatically denied any wrongdoing.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Indiana senator Evan Bayh’s wife, Susan, is a law professor who serves on several corporate boards, including Curis Inc., a therapeutic-drug development company; Dendreon Corporation, a therapeutic-drug development company; Dyax Corp., a biopharmaceutical company; Emmis Communications, a big media company; and Wellpoint Inc., a Blue Cross and Blue Shield company. Before that, Susan Bayh was a director of Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., from 2000 to 2004, and Esperion Therapeutics Inc., a biopharmaceutical company, from 2000 to 2003. From 1994 to 2004, she was a distinguished visiting professor at the College of Business Administration at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. From 1994 to 2000, she was a commissioner for the International Joint Commission of the Water Treaty Act between the United States and Canada. From 1989 to 1994, Susan Bayh was an attorney in the pharmaceutical division of Eli Lilly and Company.

Evan Bayh has voted on a variety of health issues in support of the Medicare drug benefits, backed allowing drugs to be imported from Canada, and supported the rights of patients to sue HMOs for punitive damages. In 2003 the American Public Health Association gave him a 75 percent rating.

While the finance industry was a major contributor of campaign funds for Bayh, in terms of individual companies, Eli Lilly, where his wife had worked, was the second-largest contributor with $54,022 last year. All told, taking into account Bayh’s senatorial campaigns and, before that, his campaigns for governor, Lilly (the largest pharmaceutical company in Indiana) has been his second largest contributor since 1999.

There are several other well-known women lobbyists married to members of Congress. Perhaps the best known in D.C. is Debbie Dingell, wife of John Dingell, the powerful Michigan Democratic House member. She long has represented General Motors in D.C.

Then there is Linda Daschle, wife of former Senate minority leader Tom Daschle; she’s represented American Airlines. During the ’90s she served as a deputy administrator of the FAA. In the past her husband was a major recipient of airlines contributions. Linda Daschle is viewed as a key member of the airlines industry team of lobbyists who have fought against stiffer federal regulations and opposed safety measures such as reinforcing cockpit doors.

Rebecca Cox, wife of former California congressman (now head of the Securities and Exchange Commission) Christopher Cox, is a lobbyist for Continental Airlines and was an official in the Reagan administration. Christopher Cox has not received contributions from airlines. Then there is Jean Kurth Oberstar, wife of Minnesota Democratic congressman James Oberstar. He sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and his wife owns a consulting firm that contracts with airports for which her husband helped secure federal grants. Among James Oberstar’s 2004 campaign contributors were the Air Line Pilots Association, Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, FAA Managers Association, Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union, and Professional Airways Systems Specialists. According to Oberstar’s office, she has retired from the airport consultancy. Oberstar’s website as of last month described her as an “aviation consultant based in Washington, D.C.”

Some congressional wives work in their husbands’ offices. For instance, California Democratic House member Pete Stark’s wife, Deborah, earns $2,400 a month as a campaign consultant. Arlene Willis, California Republican congressman Jerry Lewis’s wife, serves as his congressional chief of staff at a salary of approximately $111,000.

Other examples, gleaned from the Associated Press:

Laurie Stupak, wife of Michigan Democratic congressman Bart Stupak: $36,000 a year for two years working on her husband’s campaign.

Elizabeth Ney, wife of Ohio GOP congressman Bob Ney: $1,730 a month during last year’s campaign. She has worked as campaign consultant since 2001. Bob Ney is entangled in the Abramoff scandal and is under investigation for bribery.

Kathy Gohmert, wife of Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican congressman: $21,791 over four months as campaign manager plus a $7,500 bonus last November.

While congressional wives pitch in for pay, other members of the family often help out. Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman’s two kids worked for their father on his last presidential foray, with son Matthew getting $34,000 and daughter Rebecca scoring $36,000. Delaware senator Joe Biden’s son, R. Hunter Biden, provides another example: In 2003, The New York Times reported, he joined MBNA America Bank, the huge credit card empire, as a management trainee after graduating from Yale Law School. He moved up the ladder, becoming executive vice president, and now is a partner of Oldaker, Biden & Belair, a D.C. lawyer- lobbyist shop. In that capacity during 2003, he got a $100,000 annual retainer from MBNA to advise the company on “the Internet and privacy law.”

As it turns out, MBNA is Senator Biden’s biggest contributor. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Biden raised $147,700 from MBNA employees from 1999 to 2004. MBNA’s ties to the Bidens might seem ironic since the firm is usually viewed as a big Republican campaign fundraiser and was George W. Bush’s sixth-largest contributor during last year’s presidential campaign, with a total of $356,350.

Additional reporting: Colin Gustafson, Michael Roston, and Isabel Huacuja