Poor Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) has a lot of ethics issues on his hands these days.
He is already under investigation by the Department of Justice for his multiple connections to – and legislative favors apparently performed for – convicted former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. He also helped pass $37 million in contracts the military did not request to the contractor who bribed fomer Rep. (and now federal inmate) Randy "Duke" Cunningham. (You can read all about Rep. Doolittle’s tainted record in our Hall of Shame.)
Now his campaign fundraising practices – specifically, the 15% commission his wife earns on every contribution raised by her company – is raising a few eyebrows.
While he insists that it’s all legal and "standard practice," the national Association of Fundraising Professionals fired off a letter to let him know that, in fact, commission-based fundraising is clearly prohibited by the long-standing ethics code of their association and is definitely NOT standard practice in the industry. (They have learned from experience that paying commissions for fundraising tends to place the incentive on personal gain for the fundraiser rather than the best interest of the client.) "This is a big deal for us," said Association head Paulette Maehara.
The one-person fundraising company, Sierra Dominion, which is run by Doolittle’s wife Julie out of the couple’s suburban Virginia home, has collected $180,000 from Doolittle’s campaign since September of 2003. This includes a percentage of the $70,000 that Doolittle accepted from clients of Jack Abramoff, contributions that he has refused to return, and from businesses associated with the Cunningham bribery scandal.
While continuing to defend the clearly unethical practice, Doolittle added in a February interview with the Sacramento Bee that "some [people] just don’t like the family being involved in this."
Well, can you imagine that? I mean, who could possibly have a problem with a member of Congress raising money from lobbyists and businesses later convicted for bribing public officials, and feathering his own nest by passing along thousands of those dollars to his own wife working out of his own home – and through a fee arrangment viewed as unethical by industry experts, no less?
With ethics acumen like that, it’s surprising the Republican party hasn’t tried to make Rep. Doolittle chair of the House ethics committee.
Of course, he has hinted lately that his wife might be willing to consider changing the arrangement. Perhaps the Justice Department will remind him of some changes he needs to make in his other professional practices as well….