Gosar’s Holiday Bonuses May End Up Ruining His Year

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Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar may have violated House Ethics rules when he gave his Congressional staff $44,000 in holiday bonuses from his campaign committee’s account last year. The rules limit the campaign work that the Congressional employees can participate in and be compensated for, and there is not yet any indication that Gosar’s office and his campaign complied with those rules.

This news comes in the wake of today’s front page report from the Arizona Republic’s Ronald Hansen about Gosar (R-CD4) using more of his taxpayers’ budget for travel than any current Representative (not in a leadership position).

While the $1.2M for travel makes the holiday bonuses look puny, the two separate issues could be related. Meredith McGehee, the Executive Director of Issue One – a bipartisan ethics and accountability group – spoke with Arizona’s Politics. “Because each Representative’s office budget (the “MRA”) is limited, if they are spending more money on travel, they may not be paying staff appropriately.”

An Arizona’s Politics review of each Arizona Representative’s personnel costs did indicate that Gosar paid the least amount of his MRA for salaries, although offices may employ different numbers of staff members.

The bonuses range between $500 and $12,500. Most of the bonused staff are based in the Washington office, and the size of the bonuses tend to correlate to the employees’ salaries. (The FEC report is reproduced at Arizona’s Politics.)

Gosar paid between 14 and 16 individuals in his Congressional office in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2018 (campaign seasons). Of those, 9 or 10 received the “bonus for campaign staff”.

While Gosar’s Democratic opponent did receive national publicity for his ads – the ones where Gosar’s siblings bemoaned their brother’s records and comments – the election was not a close one. It is also worth noting that the Gosar campaign was not a “family affair”, and spent much more of its monies on California-based professional campaign consultants.

The House Ethics Manual makes it clear that employees ARE permitted to perform campaign duties, although they need to be careful to do it on their own time and to keep accurate records. The Manual notes that a member of Congress was subject to disciplinary action early in the 2000’s for a similar situation.

Arizona’s Politics has asked Rep. Gosar’s office for details on the staff’s campaign work that justified the $44,000 in bonuses. No response has yet been received, and this article will be updated if warranted.

If the Congressional staff members performed campaign work on their own time, kept records to document it, and reduced their governmental compensation if necessary, then no ethics violations occured. Conversely, campaign finance regulations may have been violated if the staff members did not perform campaign work commensurate with the bonuses.

McGehee notes that the purpose of the ethics rules is clear. The staff is supposed to be working for the taxpayers. “But, if campaign funds are used to supplement their salaries, it is less clear who they are working for.”

Arizona’s Politics also spoke with Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who served as the Chief Ethics Lawyer for the White House between 2005-2007. He pointed out that paying Congressional staff for political work also “creates the potential for a lot of problems”, such as treating male and female employees differently, rewarding (or punishing) certain employees, etc.

McGehee and Painter both note that even if the Congressmember and the staff abide by the ethics rules and the campaign finance laws, it is not a wise idea to try to walk that line. “Just use other people for your campaign work,” summarized Painter.