U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. is defending his decision to pay $7,600 in salary to his sister, son and niece for working on his campaign in light of a new report that questions the practice, reports Michael Collins.
The report, by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, accuses Congress members of using their positions to financially benefit themselves and their families. (Note: The full report is HERE. In the Tennessee section, there are also items on Marsha Blackburn, Jim Cooper, Chuck Fleischmann, Stephen Fincher and Scott DesJarlais.)
“This report shows lawmakers still haven’t learned it is wrong to trade on their positions as elected leaders to benefit themselves and their families,” said Melanie Sloan, the organization’s executive director.
Campaign funds can be used to make salary payments to members of a candidate’s family as long as the family member is providing a bona fide service to the campaign and is paid fair market value. But the question of whether a payment constitutes fair market value can be difficult to determine and is rarely challenged, the report said.
According to the report, Duncan’s campaign paid $4,500 in salary to his sister, Becky Duncan Massey; $2,100 to his son, Zane; and $1,000 to his niece, Courtney Massey Kohlhepp. All of the payments were made during the 2010 election cycle, which covers two years.
The payments are minuscule compared to the salaries other lawmakers paid to relatives. U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., for example, paid his wife $512,293 to work in his congressional office, the report said.
Duncan’s spokesman, Patrick Newton, said the salaries paid to Massey and Kohlhepp were for preparing financial reports that the congressman’s campaign is required to file.
…Massey, who is now a Tennessee state senator, had prepared the reports for her father, John J. Duncan Sr., when he was in Congress. When her brother, the current congressman, was elected, she continued the role and charged him the same rate she had charged their father. When her job became too demanding, she stopped preparing the reports and trained her daughter, Kohlhepp, to take over that responsibility.
“If Becky and Courtney didn’t do those reports for him, he’d have to hire an attorney or CPA in D.C. to do it, and it would cost much more money than what they charge,” Newton said.
Newton said the campaign paid Zane Duncan $2,100 to put up signs across the district and to represent his father at various campaign appearances with Gov. Bill Haslam.
“He used Zane because he was cheaper,” Newton said.
The watchdog group’s report also notes that Duncan’s campaign committee has given $8,125 to Lincoln Memorial University, where his wife, Lynn, works as the director of major gifts; and $300 to the Sertoma Center, where Becky Duncan Massey is executive director. In 2009, the congressman also got a congressional earmark of $285,000 in federal funds for the center, which serves adults with intellectual disabilities.