Doolittle’s Wife’s Cut

We spent some time yesterday digging into Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-CA) nifty little arrangement with his wife, where she was paid a 15 percent commission on contributions that came into Doolittle’s campaign and leadership PAC. She’s known to have bagged $180,000 since late 2001.

First, let us say that we valiantly tried to get a comment from Doolittle’s office, but that our calls were not returned.

Now, a number of other members of Congress have family members doing fundraising for them, but they are all paid a flat fee; the Doolittles were getting a cut of every contribution that came in to his campaign. The ethics experts we spoke to said that sounded at least unethical and possibly illegal.

One question that stood out was just how unusual it was for a political fundraiser to charge a 15 percent commission. So we spent some time today calling around to fundraising consultants to find out just how remarkable that arrangement was.What we found was that working on commission at all is generally frowned on. As Wendy Warfield of Warfield & Associates said, “A lot of fundraisers don’t do commissions anymore, because it’s not considered the best practice.”

But for fundraisers who do work on commission, 15 percent is within the accepted range, we were told. That doesn’t make the Doolittle’s arrangement kosher (it’s a handy setup to channel bribes to Doolittle), but it is arguably within the fair market standards.

Keep in mind also that those “market standards” apply for established consultancies. Doolittle’s wife worked out of their house, had no known experience, no known employees, and her only other clients are Jack Abramoff, an admitted felon, and Ed Buckham, who’s under investigation.