Congressional staffer bonuses increasingly scrutinized
Local news media outlets across the country have taken an interest in congressional staff bonuses, using salary data provided by LegiStorm.
The stories - in places like Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah - follow up on a Wall Street Journal article earlier this month that reported that House members handed out the highest seasonal bonuses in years to their own employees in 2008. The scrutiny of congressional staff bonus practices comes as members of Congress have railed against CEOs who paid hefty bonuses with taxpayer bailout money.
For example, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that former Utah Rep. Chris Cannon (R) handed out bonues equivalent to a 50 percent pay raise for some of his staffers after losing his district's Republican primary. According to the Tribune, Cannon "wanted to thank his staffers for the work they had done and entice them to stay until he left office in January. But his primary motivation was helping them get bigger salaries in their next jobs."
Similarly, in nearby New Mexico, Rep. Heather Wilson (R) gave 13 employees as much as $3,000 each after her failed senatorial campaign, as reported by Albuquerque public radio station KUNM. Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) won his election to the U.S. Senate - and also awarded bonuses. In total, the newly elected senator gave out almost $80,000 to 19 employees who had worked for him in the House of Representatives. Some of those employees also worked on Udall's campaign.
Denver's local ABC affiliate notes that Colorado representatives and senators rewarded their staffers with more than $200,000 in bonuses in 2008. Staff members for Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) received more than $96,000 in bonuses, Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.) gave out over $64,000, and Denver's CBS affiliate reports that Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) gave his employees a total of about $100,000 in bonuses. Tancredo was also, the CBS affiliate noted, the only bonus-awarding member of the local congressional delegation who was willing to be interviewed on the subject.
Daniel Bice, writing in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, observes that most of Wisonsin's congressional representation has been handing out taxpayer-funded bonuses as well, with Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wisc.) awarding over $100,000 in bonuses to his staffers. Other media outlets jumped on the story, including University of Wisconsin publications the Badger Herald and the Daily Cardinal and Fox's WLUK-TV.
As in Colorado, legislators seemed to be reluctant to discuss the bonuses. "We're required to provide some information publicly," Bice quotes a Petri spokesman as saying. "We do what's required but don't want to go beyond that."