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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, September 18, 2006

Some folks mortgage their houses . . .

. . . and some folks pay themselves a salary:
[R]ecords show that [Congressional Candidate Bryan] Kennedy paid himself a salary of $4,100 in July and again in August from his campaign [. . .]. Kennedy, a long-shot Democrat running against House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, confirmed Friday that he made another $4,100 payment to himself from his campaign fund on Sept. 1 and will continue to do so each month through December. Total projected campaign dollars he plans to pocket: $24,600.

Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack said that in 2002 his agency made it kosher for candidates to dip into their campaign funds. But the vast majority has avoided the practice out of fear of giving opponents ammunition. "It's not typical by any stretch," Biersack said. "It's relatively unusual." [. . .]

In a Friday interview, Kennedy defended using his contributors' generosity to put food on his table, suggesting that this is the only way a middle-class guy can run for federal office. [. . .] Rather, Kennedy is taking a leave from his job as an assistant professor of Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. [. . .]

Under federal regs, a congressional candidate can use campaign funds to pay himself no more than what his salary was the year before he began running for office, said Biersack. Though it doesn't affect Kennedy, this amount is capped at the current pay for congressmen.

Kennedy used questions about his salary to toss a couple of salvos at Sensenbrenner, a kazillionaire from Menomonee Falls. Besides, Sensenbrenner--like all incumbents--gets paid year-round, whether he is sitting in a hearing or is on the campaign stump. "Why are we paying Sensenbrenner a salary the whole month of August when he's out campaigning?" Kennedy asked.
Spivak and Bice are, as Dan Cody notes, gossipmongers. Occasionally, that gossip is interesting and meaningful; more often, it smells petty. I've known Bryan was paying himself for some time--the subject came up at a variety of forums throughout 2004, how one who is not, as el niños Spice put it, a kazillionaire can run for office. A salary as provided under the FEC guidelines is one way.

Kennedy is not in any way raking in campaign bucks by the, um, kazillions (though you can certainly help him a little bit), and I wish he could spend every last cent on TV against Sensenbrenner. (I think the best ads would just be C-SPAN clips of Sensenbrenner being himself; if that doesn't turn the distrcit off to their Representative, I don't know what will.) But I also know Bryan, and I know that he could not be doing this three-year campaign without some financial assistance for his family. No normal person can.

I can't even take a summer off to hang out by the pool--whatever you think about my cadillac teacher's compensation package--so I know there's no way I could take a sabbatical to run for anything. That, and I don't think anyone would vote for me.

It's frustrating, since some people think this is "funny," and others are raising the inevitable ethical and legal questions, even if it does beat ditch digging. It ends up being a pretty sad commentary on contemporary American politics when double- or triple-mortgaging your house to buy TV ads is more respectable than following the law to feed your family while campaigning.

And it's even more frustrating that Kennedy only makes the paper when the gossipmongers think they've got enough slime to make a column.

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