All in the family: Campaigns offer source of income for candidates and their relatives
Running for office for the first time often means giving up your old job to focus on the campaign. Several of the new members of Congress who aren’t independently wealthy took the opportunity to use an FEC rule which allows them to give themselves a paycheck. Other new members and candidates opted to bring their family members along for the ride, giving them paid positions on the campaigns.
Of the successful candidates to take a salary from the campaign, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) was paid the most, $30,000, according to data from The Center for Responsive Politics. Tlaib was a Michigan state representative for six years where the average salary is $71,685 and then was a public interest lawyer for a nonprofit.
The loss of a salary can hurt some of the less well-off candidates, so the FEC allows first-time candidates to pay themselves a salary from their campaign committee if they meet certain requirements. The FEC states the terms as the salary “must not exceed lesser of the minimum annual salary for the federal office sought or what the candidate received as earned income in the previous year.” A candidate cannot receive a whole year worth of salary unless they are a candidate for 12 full months.
The other new member of Congress who paid herself a salary was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who collected $8,171. Ocasio-Cortez, whose personal finances are known to be paltry — as of her election she had less than $7,000 in savings and is still paying student loans — worked as a bartender before her upset primary victory.
Family members are also allowed to be paid with campaign funds, as long as they provide a “bona fide service” to the campaign the FEC stipulates.
Several new members paid family members for roles in the campaign, a long tradition with famous examples including Robert Kennedy serving as campaign manager for John’s 1952 Senate campaign. Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) paid his daughter Meghan Fulcher a salary of $63,500. According to her LinkedIn page, Meghan was her father’s campaign manager and had previously worked on his bid for Idaho governor and was an intern for Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho).
Another family member that took home a large campaign check was Kris Cramer, wife of newly-elected Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). Kris earned $52,000 as her husband’s campaign manager, a role she has served in four times. Her role as a paid staff member was a source of contention in the race against former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) paid his brother Coleman $28,035 for his media work. Another member, Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) paid his daughter Lauren an $11,000 salary. According to a bio, Lauren received her masters’ degree in fermentation sciences in 2017 and works as the general manager for Silverback Distillery, which Riggleman co-owned. A request for comment on Lauren’s role in the campaign was not returned.
Among unsuccessful campaigns to hire family members, two paid notable salaries. Ken Harbaugh, who ran for a House seat in Ohio, paid his wife Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh $69,253 for her role as campaign spokesperson and for communications consulting. Prior, she had jobs as an English teacher and a writer, according to her LinkedIn.
John Kingston, a Republican in Massachusetts who lost the primary for Senate, paid his daughter, Annalise, a salary of $38,690. According to her LinkedIn, she graduated college in 2017 and worked on her father’s campaign as an executive assistant.
Hiring family members is something not just new candidates do. For example, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has paid his son Elliott for years as campaign treasurer. In 2018, Elliott received a salary of $73,824. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s campaign paid his wife, Rhonda, $114,461 for being his campaign manager in 2018.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) gave her sister Brenda a $100,908 salary. Moore’s leadership PAC paid Brenda $10,500 for fundraising and consulting services. It is unclear what Brenda’s role on the campaign was. Moore’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Rep. Mike Doyle’s (D-Pa.) wife received a $45,744 salary from his campaign. Doyle’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on his wife’s role on the staff.
Another example is Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) who has employed family members — his son Jeff and daughter-in-law Lindsay — for quite some time. In 2018, Jeff received $124,568, plus a $10,000 “win bonus,” in wages as campaign chair and Lindsay got $62,400, plus a $2,500 “win bonus,” as office manager.
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