Monday, March 31, 2008

'free time'

As Mel Brooks once said, its good to be the king.
Taxpayers have forked over more than $75,000 to Nathan Rathbun in salary and reimbursements for his work as a field coordinator and caseworker for Rep. Chris Cannon's congressional office in Provo since January 2005.
During the same period, Rathbun also took paychecks from Cannon's re-election campaign totaling more than $90,000.
While not violating any House rules, Rathbun's situation - shared by several on Cannon's federal payroll - underscores what the Utah County Republican's opponents call an alarming crossover between taxpayer-paid staff and campaign workers.
House ethics rules prohibit congressional staffers from working on campaigns while on the clock for their official positions or on the grounds of House or district buildings. But staffers are allowed to help a campaign in their free time as long as they don't use any congressional resources.
Hunter insists the staffers do not do campaign work on congressionally paid time or vice-versa. But Cannon's office does not require the staffers who work for both the congressional office and the campaign to log what hours they work for either, as suggested by the House Ethics Committee.
Hunter says he personally ensures that they are being paid commensurate for their work and doesn't see a need for detailed logs. Last year, for example, Hunter says he took a voluntary cut in pay because he also was doing some work for a pro-school voucher group that paid him $8,000.
In another disputed point, Cannon has reimbursed several congressional staffers with campaign money for expenses such as telephones and office supplies, despite a recommendation from the Ethics Committee that a House employee "should not make any outlay on behalf of the employing member's campaign" other than travel expenses.
The thing is, these staffers aren't "volunteering" or even working during their "free time" out of the goodness of their heart. They are working for their boss so that they will have a job next year. "Without a doubt, I volunteer a lot of free time to it. I obviously care a lot about Rob's re-election," said Scott Parker, chief of staff to Rep. Rob Bishop. And from talking to my friends who are congressional staffers, you are only off the job when you quit, are fired, or your boss loses, because a crisis could emerge while you are on vacation or trying to sleep.

That would true if their boss' name was "Chris Cannon" or "Jim Matheson," and that is the true ethical quandary, not the fact that these staffer's work is yet another advantage that an incumbent has over a challenger. Jim opts to not pay any Congressional staffers that work for his campaign off the federal clock. But really, I wish that the Ethics Committee would forbid staffers from working on campaigns at all. As a former legislative staffer on the state level (in Massachusetts) I can tell you that there is big pull--even if your boss or supervising staffer never mentions it--to help out on the re-election campaign, both economically and emotionally. And sure, Cannon's challengers are pointing this out because it is a easy way to score political points, but they still would be a valid point to make even if they didn't stand to gain from making Cannon look bad.

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