In a statement released yesterday, Democracy 21 urged the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA) violated House ethics rules. Doolittle intervened in two case-specific matters in support of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's tribal clients during the same period that a company owned by Rep. Doolittle's wife received payments from Abramoff's law firm.
Rep. Doolittle's wife, Julie, acts as a political consultant to her husband through her firm, Sierra Dominion Solutions, and receives a 15 percent commission on any contribution she helps to bring in to her husband's leadership political action committee (PAC) and campaign committee. The Washington Post reports that she has received nearly $169,146 since 2001. While this is not technically illegal, it does raise questions about campaign finance laws. "If this is ok, it is a road map for how to convert substantial sums of campaign money to personal use," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. A Washington Post editorial in March highlighted Rep. Doolittle billing his reelection campaign committee for $5,8881 in child-care costs since 2001 for his daughter.
Julie Doolittle launched Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions in March 2001, two months after her husband was named to the Appropriations Committee. An excellent San Diego Union-Tribune article covers the Dolittles' campaign funding habits thoroughly, pointing out that Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions has no phone listing, web site, or employees other than Julie Doolittle. To date, the congressman's office has not provided any specific information on Julie's previous fundraising experience.
A Senate investigation of Abramoff and Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions concluded that Julie Doolittle did not know she was receiving funds from a California Indian gaming tribe. Questions remain, however, as to whether Rep. Doolittle acted ethically when he admittedly helped Duke Cunningham's co-conspirator Brent Wilkes receive $37 million in federal contracts for PerfectWave thorugh the earmark process. As Doolittle pushed for funding for PerfectWave, Wilkes and his associates donated $7,000 to his campaign and $10,000 to his PAC. Julie Doolittle added $1,500 to her household income from Wilkes' contributions.
Julie Doolittle is certainly not the only congressional spouse working for a husband or wife's fundraising committee. For example, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) paid more than $122,000 to a company in which her husband, John Collins, is involved. More infamously, Tom DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority political action committee (ARMPAC) paid his wife, daughter, and his daughter's firm $350,304 in political consulting fees and expenses. Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) also employs his spouse as a campaign consultant and has paid her at least $505,000 since 1995. Among this list, Filner's wife is the only person with previous campaign experience, as executive director of the Democrats' 2000 political action committee.
As the Sunlight Foundation points out, the inherent conflicts of interest that arise through campaigning are allowed with the understanding that none of the money goes directly to the pockets or bank accounts of members of Congress themselves. This understanding is violated when members, through their spouses, are personally enriched by the money their PACs earn. Large contributions to politicians raise enough questions about improper influence on their own, without the officials bringing the money home, literally.
-- Mandy Smithberger and Michael Smallberg
Late P.S.: Props to our fellow watchdogs, Taxpayers for Common Sense, for their work on this story.