Blog — Ethics
As 60 Minutes reported recently, many members of Congress are using their campaign committees and political action committees (PACs) to pay family members or foot the bill for fancy travel. CREW’s research department and 60 Minutes worked together to find and highlight outrageous examples of dubious spending, but there are plenty more. Earlier this week, CREW helped Florida station WTSP turn the spotlight on, among others, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a two-term congressman who has found an opaque way of adding his wife to his campaign payroll.
Since last year, Rep. Ross’s campaign committee has paid more than $17,000 to a company called Organization Management, LLC. CREW’s investigation unearthed state incorporation records showing the company’s address is the same as Rep. Ross’s Lakeland, FL home. The same records list Rep. Ross’s wife, Cindy, as the company’s managing member. In response to questions from WTSP, Rep. Ross said his wife has been acting as his chief Florida fundraiser, and he is paying her less than he used to pay professional fundraisers. “Transparency is everything,” Rep. Ross told WTSP. Despite his lip service to transparency, however, the state records were the only clue to Ms. Ross’s relationship with Organization Management; her name was nowhere to be found. Rep. Ross said Organization Management had “no net income” in 2012, which he said was the reason he did not disclose it on his personal financial disclosure form as a source of income for Ms. Ross.
Rep. Ross’s campaign finance reports reflected other unusual expenditures. For example, his PAC, Taxpayers Incensed by Government Excess, last year spent more than $1,000 on “travel to Africa.” House travel records show Rep. Ross took a taxpayer-funded trip with the House Natural Resources Committee to Africa in August of 2012, but it is unclear exactly what his PAC paid for. He has also used leadership PAC money to pay for thousands of dollars in airfare and a room at the Denver Ritz-Carlton. In response to WTSP’s questions about his leadership PAC spending, Rep. Ross told the station his leadership PAC was “essentially an operating account to further your interests as a member of Congress,” and could be used for expenses tied to socializing and relationships with colleagues.
WTSP’s story also highlighted unusual expenditures by other members of the Florida delegation, including Rep. Vern Buchanan’s (R-FL) use of campaign money to pay his sister-in-law and to pay rent to companies he owns. CREW reported on Rep. Buchanan’s spending as part of its Family Affair report last year. The evidence is adding up: too many members of Congress use campaign and PAC money as personal slush funds. It’s time to end this practice. Members need to demonstrate they’re looking out for the public interest instead of just their own families’ bottom lines.
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