Three Republican Tennessee lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, used campaign donations to pay salaries to their family members during the last two election cycles, according to a new report.
For almost a year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington scoured House financial disclosures, office budgets and campaign ledgers for financial connections between lawmakers and their families.
They found that the families of more than half of all House lawmakers have received payments or otherwise benefited from ties to a lawmaker in the past two election cycles.
The watchdog group reported the following about Tennessee lawmakers:
• Fleischmann, of Ooltewah, paid his college-aged son, Charles M. "Chuckie" Fleischmann, $4,652 from campaign funds for "wages for work done" during the 2010 election cycle.
Fleischmann said his son's "low-paying, entry-level job" with the campaign involved three months of "traveling with me, seeing me make speeches and helping me meet with potential voters."
"When we started this campaign in 2009, it was very, very lonely," Fleischmann said. "I was learning how to campaign at the time because I was a political newcomer."
• U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, of Knoxville, paid his sister, son and niece a combined $7,600 for work during the 2010 election cycle.
Patrick Newton, a spokesman for Duncan, said the congressman's niece and sister compile and file financial disclosures.
"There is nothing at all inappropriate about these payments," Newton said. "He uses his sister and niece for this work because otherwise he would have to hire a lawyer or accountant who would charge much, much more."
• U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, of Brentwood, paid her daughter $301 for administrative and fundraising services. A spokesman for Blackburn did not respond to an email requesting comment.
The payments don't appear to violate the law or House ethics rules. As long as the payments are disclosed, campaign funds can be used to pay market-value salaries to a candidate's relatives if the relatives are providing actual services to the campaign.
But CREW researchers said the connections raise important questions.
"This report shows lawmakers still haven't learned it is wrong to trade on their positions as elected leaders to benefit themselves and their families," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said.