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The office records of Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) show an anomaly that may have allowed the embattled congressman to skirt wage cap rules by paying a windfall bonus of $30,000 to his chief of staff.
Schock has faced nonstop media attention for his use of taxpayer and campaign dollars since The Washington Post reported on his "Downton Abbey"-inspired office. In the weeks since, his communications director has resigned for racially charged Facebook posts and Schock has paid tens of thousands of dollars back to taxpayers after scrutiny of his travel and other expenses.
For the first three quarters of 2014, Schock's Chief of Staff Mark Roman made $30,000 a quarter, or $120,000 annually. Records for the fourth quarter of 2014, however, reported that his salary payment had doubled to $60,000.
December bonuses are not unusual on Capitol Hill. Bonuses, however, must comply with the salary caps defined in House rules. The Members' Handbook says a staffer may not receive any more than the $168,411 annual cap, and also specifies the staffer may not receive more than 1/12th that amount - or $14,034 - in any one month.
That cap would allow Roman to receive only about $4,000 a month additional in bonus above his $10,000 monthly salary.
If the $30,000 additional payment came in December, his total compensation that month would be $26,000 above the limit. Even if the $30,000 additional payment was spread over three months, it would be too high by $18,000.
Schock managed to avoid the monthly salary cap by reporting that the $60,000 was salary Roman earned from March 1-Dec. 31, even though he had already reported Roman's salary from March 1-Sept. 30. No other salary payment in Schock's office showed similar backdating.
Since congressional office allowances do not roll over to the next year, the additional $30,000 paid to Roman otherwise would have been forfeited to the U.S. Treasury at the end of the year.
Schock's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Other salary payments by Schock have come under scrutiny. The progressive site Blue Nation Review questioned various final quarter pay raises, including to a staff photographer (an unusual position in a member's office) and an intern put on the payroll for $18,000 in the quarter, more than most of the rest of the staff earned.
Roman has worked for Schock since 2009 when he started as a legislative assistant. He came to the Hill in 2005 and held jobs with Rep. Nancy Lee Johnson (R-Conn.) and Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.).
A former lobbyist and professional staff member with the House Small Business Committee has taken a position as federal affairs manager for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.
Andrew Huff started with the committee in 2012 as a staff assistant for the Republicans, later working as a research then legislative assistant. He left last month for the mutual insurance trade association.
Huff has also worked as an intern on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Between Hill jobs, he worked as a legislative assistant at the Small Business Investor Alliance between 2010 and 2012.
At the Alliance, Huff registered to lobby in 2011 on issues including Dodd-Frank implementation and the tax treatment of carried interests. He graduated in 2009 from North Carolina State University with a bachelor's in political science and entrepreneurship.
A senior legislative assistant for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has moved off the Hill and into the advocacy world.
Robert Babcock Jr. has worked on the Hill since 2010 when he interned for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) shortly after graduating from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor's degree. He started as manager of government relations at Van Scoyoc Associates in February.
Babcock also worked for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) as a staff assistant between 2011 and 2013 when he moved to King's office. Babcock began as legislative assistant for King and rose to senior legislative assistant in December before leaving about two months later.
Van Scoyoc remains a major player on K Street, registering to lobby so far this year for clients as diverse as Iowa State University, the City of Gulfport, Fla. and the Association of American Publishers.
Babcock's wife, Christine Schaffer, serves as director of scheduling for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). She has worked on the Hill since 2008 and has also worked for Hutchison and Cantor.
The House GOP gave higher bonuses to staff than Democrats in 2014, but Democrats took the top spot and six of the top 10 slots in doling out higher fourth quarter salaries on average per staffer.
The House doesn't require public reporting of bonuses. Salary records that are public don't clearly separate bonuses from regular pay. To determine bonuses, LegiStorm calculates the average salary per staffer in the first three quarters and compares that to the last quarter of the year.
Republicans have edged Democrats in each of the last three years for bonuses, with a 15.8 percent average fourth quarter increase per staffer in 2014 compared to Democrats' 12.4 percent and 14.1 percent overall. The percentages were down from the last election year in 2012, when the overall bump was 17.4 percent. The figures for 2014 may still edge up since payroll data is sometimes submitted too late to appear in the quarterly expenditure releases.
Bonuses tend to be higher in election years as members leaving office look to reward their staff; in 2013 the overall percentage increase per staffer was only 10.6 percent, the lowest LegiStorm has tracked. Lawmakers defend bonuses by comparing the long hours and low salaries of congressional staff to their counterparts in other agencies or the private sector.
Of the top 10 members who gave the largest bonuses, six are no longer in office or moved to the Senate in January. Members moving to the Senate, such as Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), or taking new committee posts, such as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), may have been adjusting staff lists and pay in preparation for the new roles.
The list of largest percentage increases per staffer in the fourth quarter included:
1. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) with a $149,687 total payroll fourth quarter increase over the average in the first three quarters and an 81 percent average increase per staffer.
2. Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) with a $67,183 payroll increase and 74 percent average increase per staffer.
3. Then-Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) with a $103,440 payroll increase and 66 percent increase per staffer. Lankford was elected to the Senate.
4. Retired Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) with a $48,672 payroll increase and 62 percent increase per staffer.
5. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) with an $80,202 payroll increase and 57 percent increase per staffer.
6. Retired Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) with a $103,045 payroll increase and a 57 percent increase per staffer.
7. Retired Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) with a $113,907 payroll increase and 56 percent increase per staffer.
8. Retired Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) with a $4,918 payroll decrease and a 55 percent increase per staffer.
9. Defeated Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) with a $104,825 payroll increase and 53 percent increase per staffer.
10. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) with an $80,960 payroll increase and 49 percent increase per staffer.
View the rest of the list here.
The House released fourth quarter salaries on Friday. LegiStorm does not track the Senate figures because salaries are reported in six-month intervals instead of every quarter and straddle calendar years, making it difficult to determine year-end bonuses.
When Netflix released the new "House of Cards" season Friday, staffers were a little busy with a shutdown showdown.
But that didn't stop them from tuning in over the weekend, and a few found ways to watch at work Friday night according to one rumor.
Congressional staffers have tweeted and retweeted dozens of "House of Cards" mentions since late last week. One member, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), joined the chorus Friday with a press release denouncing a vehicle purchase for a library in the fictional Frank Underwood's real hometown (hashtag House of #PorkChops).
House Republicans also took advantage of the buzz with a "Who Said It?" quiz pitting Underwood against President Barack Obama.
The best staffer tweets from both sides of the aisle, with a few minor spoilers included:
Kirsten M. Hartman, Press Secretary for Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), on Thursday:
"Channeling my inner Claire Underwood on a long, late-night DC run #HouseOfCards"
Madeleine L. Perry, New Media Director for Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), on Thursday:
"Told my intern I sometimes play video games after work. He compared me to Frank from House of Cards. I should probably just call it a day."
Chris P. Harris, Communications Director for Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), on Friday:
"House Rs are stiff competition for House of Cards tonight. What to watch..."
Trevor W. Foughty, Deputy Chief of Staff/Communications Director for Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), in a Friday reply:
"@TheFix @jrkinsella Turn on CSPAN and realize the House of Cards version of Congress is sometime more palatable than the real one..."
Jesse M. Malowitz, District Representative for Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), on Saturday:
"Confession: I don't even like House of Cards I think it's too over the top. Confession part 2: I've watched 4 episodes today."
Timothy Hogan, Communications Director for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), on Saturday:
"The politics of #HouseofCards is so confusing. Underwood hates entitlement programs, but #AmericaWorks is a government-funded job program."
Elise Tollefson, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), on Saturday:
"Does Netflix have a discussion draft of #AmericaWorks? #HouseOfCards #HouseofCardsSeason3"
Abigail E. Finn, Legislative Correspondent for Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), on Saturday:
"Frank Underwood balancing an egg in the Oval Office? How very CJ Cregg of him."
We spend a large part of our days looking at data. Documents often come in by the dozens and hundreds. And while most are boring - how interesting can staring at a phone directory or salary records be, for example? - we find daily reasons for interest, amusement or even concern packed in the documents. So we are launching a new running feature that we call "Caught our Eye."
Longer than tweets but shorter than most blog posts, Caught our Eye items will bring back the interest in reviewing documents and researching people. Some items might bring hard, breaking news. Others will raise eyebrows and lead some into further inquiry. Others might be good for a joke or two around the water cooler. All will enlighten about the people or workings of Capitol Hill.
Caught our Eye items will be published each morning for LegiStorm Pro subscribers. Non-Pro site users will be able to receive the news items a few hours later. In addition to having immediate access to the news, LegiStorm Pro users will have a handy way to search and browse all past items.