In the past two election cycles, Americans donated close to $2 billion to candidates running for the U.S. House. Their contributions not only went to fund core campaign costs, but also to candidates' babysitters, five-star hotels in Athens, six-figure salaries for candidates' family members and thousands of dollars in interest payments to the candidates themselves.
A 347-page report on House campaign contributions released Thursday by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington suggests that it pays to be related to a member of Congress. Throughout the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, more than half of the current members of the House - 248 to be exact - each spent more than $10,000 in campaign cash to pay themselves and their family a combined total of $5.6 million, according to the non-profit ethics watchdog group.
"Millions of dollars… flow through campaign accounts with little oversight and sporadic scrutiny from the toothless FEC [Federal Elections Commission]," the CREW report states.
It was Rep. Aaron Schock, R, Ill., who opted for luxury in Athens, using $30,000 in campaign donations to reimburse himself for hotel bills spanning from a 5-star stay in Greece to more affordable Hampton Inns, the report stated.
Rep. Rob Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, treated his family to a luxury resort in Scotland while attending a wedding, all on campaign donors' dime, according to the group.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is currently running for president, reportedly made campaigning a family affair, dolling out thousands in campaign donations to six of his family members, more than any other member.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., paid his wife, Arlene Willis, who serves as his Chief of Staff, half a million dollars over the past four years. Willis was hired to run Lewis' congressional office more than three decades ago, before the two were married.
The report notes that while many of these expenditures toe the line of legality, all are within the law.
"The rules of the House make it very clear that having relatives on your official payroll is against the rules of the House," House Speaker John Boehner said after ABC's John Parkinson asked him about the CREW report. "I think when it comes to the issue of campaign funds, if there's legitimate work being done, people ought to be paid for it."
It's not just family members getting big checks when their spouses, parents, uncles and aunts run for Congress, 14 members themselves have made sizable profits from loaning parts of their personal fortunes to their election campaigns, according to CREW.
Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., got a substantial return on the $150,000 she loaned to her own campaign in 1998. By 2010 she had collected $94,000 in interest payments. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Georgia, has received $29,000 in interest payments from his $309,000 campaign loan, despite reporting to the FEC that he would not charge interest on the loan, the report stated.
The CREW report found that 44 representatives had at least one family member who has been a registered lobbyist.