WASHINGTON- One name pops up over and over in campaign spending reports for 2nd District Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger.
In his latest campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission, the Baltimore County Democrat’s expenses included $1,895 to his wife and other family members for campaign supplies and food, and $35 to the candidate himself for a “crabfest ticket.”
Records also show that the freshman congressman’s aunt, Beverly Ruppersberger, is paid $16,000 a year to work part-time on his campaign staff. She spends 30 hours a week managing the campaign office, a job that includes financial record keeping and scheduling, said Steve Jost, Ruppersberger’s chief of staff.
FEC guidelines say it is legal for family members to work as campaign staff if they are paid fair market value for their work.
While it is legal, hiring kin might not be politically savvy, said Larry Noble, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., was criticized in July for paying his children, Matt and Rebecca, salaries of between $60,000 and $70,000 for campaign fund raising.
The issue for potential donors is whether or not putting family members on the payroll is a way for a candidate to convert campaign money to personal use, which is illegal, Noble said.
“It’s up to constituents,” he said. “If they see a lot of family members getting paid, they question whether they want to make contributions to the campaign.”
But Jost defended the practice.
“I think any candidate who can show they have support of those close to them is doing the right thing,” Jost said.
If anything, he said, Aunt Beverly Ruppersberger is probably underpaid. And many more Ruppersbergers volunteer with the campaign than are paid, he said.
And not all the Ruppersbergers who show up in the campaign report are relations, he said.
Renee Ruppersberger is not related to Dutch Ruppersberger, but introduced herself after he gave the commencement address at her high school in Baltimore, said Jost. She joined the campaign after noting their shared last name.
Campaign records show that Renee Ruppersberger made more than $500 during two months in 2002 for “helping get out the vote.”
Getting out the vote may have been money well-spent in the bruising 2002 election.
In that race, Ruppersberger raised and spent more than $1.2 million, first to beat Democratic challenger Oz Bengur, who spent $773,000 in the primary, and then to beat former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican who spent just over $1 million in the general election. Ruppersberger, who was the Baltimore County executive at the time of the race, took 54 percent of the vote to Bentley’s 46 percent.
The race left Ruppersberger with just over $29,000 in the bank. He has raised about $100,00 this year and spent about $60,000, leaving him with $59,000 on hand as of June 30, the date of his last FEC filing.