Guest Editorial: Political Candidates Working for Themselves… Indeed?

Editor’s note: The following is a guest editorial by: Ju Teixeira

Sigh. Just when one thought that the El Paso Times in the midst of a dying industry had discovered the true meaning of journalism with powerful investigative pieces like this one by the journalist Diana Washington Valdez, it takes three steps back and practically goes to cut & paste and fails to dig deeper than the press release by  Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

First, it is important to point out that despite the misleading phrases in the opening paragraph of the story, CREW is not in any way associated with or appointed by the Congress of the U.S. It is an independent non-profit  watch dog group with its own dubious ethical lapses. Link

While the EPT quotes Congressman Reyes stating the fact that this is strictly within the law, it also miserably failed to go further in conducting its own due diligence– and report on it– by further clarifying that fact that not only were taxpayer funds were NOT ever involved.  These are campaign expenditures funded by campaign donations.

As far as hiring family members and relatives as trusted members of your staff and reimbursing them for expenses or paying them a salary, this is not something new and exclusive to Congressman Reyes. The New York Times also featured a story on the study and responsibly reiterated on its own that, “Most of these practices do not appear to violate any laws or House ethics rules. And it is extremely common for lawmakers to use campaign funds to reimburse themselves for expenses related to a re-election bid.”

I wonder if former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, funded their own expenses while campaigning for Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign. I also wonder if George W. Bush was paid a salary by his father, George H. Bush, for serving as his campaign manager during Bush, Sr.’s 1988 presidential campaign. I wonder how many present and former elected officials have hired family members or covered their expenses when participating in official campaign events throughout modern campaign history.

Some may not like it, but it did not involve misuse or use of the taxpayer’s dime and did not violate any laws. Perhaps, politicians prefer to trust family members and choose to remunerate them for giving up part of their lives to campaign for their loved one. Maybe it’s just as simple as complying with federal campaign laws and reporting any expense, activity or work on behalf of the campaign.

The story ends by quoting Mr. O’Rourke stating that, “Reyes is working for himself, his family and those close to him.” Well, according to O’Rourke’s own campaign reports from his current campaign for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as reports for his for Congress paid his own media company, Stanton Street Technology Group, presumably for work provided to his campaign.

If we look at the 2012 race for TX House District 16, Mr. O’Rourke paid his own company, Stanton Technologies Group $8,025 and he reimbursed himself for a bit over $1,600 in expenses from July to December 2011.  Link

And in prior campaigns for city council, he also paid Stanton Street Technology Group for campaign services.  He even reimbursed Ms. Amy O’Rourke $1,300 during his 2007 campaign for another term on El Paso’s City Council.  Granted, the amount must be taken in the context of a  small time local campaign certainly not a federal campaign for a seat on the United States Congress.

Given these facts, one would have to ask the editors and reporters at the El Paso Times, what’s the different standard here? Surely it can’t be the EPT displaying bias or merely lazy “reporting.”  After all, if it was biased and wanted to report on ethical lapses by local politicians, it would fail or decline to report on the instances where Mr. O’Rourke refused to recuse himself while a member of the El Paso City Council from voting on measures that might benefit his extended family’s business interests, such as decisions on eminent domain right?

And as far as Mr. O’Rourke himself, if he is appalled at ethical lapses involving less than arms length relationships, he should speak out against Citizens United and the havoc and lack of transparency it is causing on political campaigns and further eroding the public’s trust in government.

He might also want to read and ponder about Ms. Washington Valdez’s article (link provided above) before pointing out the alleged speck in Congressman Reyes’ eye.

After all, Mr. O’Rourke would not want to appear to be working for himself and those close to him, no?