Report: MN lawmakers pay family members with campaign cash

A new report by Washington D.C.-based government watchdog details how much money Minnesota’s congressional delegation has paid family members for campaign work.

DFL Rep. Collin Peterson paid his son, Elliott Peterson, roughly $105,000 during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles in salary and reimbursements.

Peterson said that, though his son has a masters in music, he’s one-quarter away from having an accounting degree, too.

“He files all the reports, keeps track of all the money, pays all the bills,” Peterson said. “And I trust him.”

During the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, Peterson also used about $30,000 from his campaign fund and his leadership political action committee to pay for travel reimbursement, including Peterson’s personal airplane mileage. Peterson is a pilot, and uses his personal plane to traverse the 7th Congressional District.

“I don’t drive any place. I fly,” he said. “If I didn’t fly, I wouldn’t get anything done.”

Peterson said that he still covers about 15 percent of the flying cost out of pocket.

Other Minnesota lawmakers were included in the report:

– 3rd District Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen paid his wife, Kelly, more than $10,000 in salary and travel expenses during the 2008 election cycle. In 2009, a spokesman said that she served as office manager and helped wind down campaign operations after the election. Paulsen also reimbursed himself roughly $29,000 for office supplies, travel, and meals during the 2008 and 2010 elections, according to the report.

– 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz used his campaign fund and his leadership committee for nearly $30,000 in reimbursements for food, travel and babysitting costs. According to, a database of campaign spending, at least some of those babysitting costs are associated with campaign events.

– 5th District DFL Rep. Keith Ellison paid his son, Isaiah, roughly $7,000 in salary during the 2010 election cycle.

Lawmakers typically use campaign funds to cover travel associated with campaigning.

CREW also notes in its report that these payments to family are legal, so long as the the family members was providing a bona fide service at fair market value.

But CREW also wrote that it was “unable to discover the qualifications of those family members, whether the payments were for bona fide campaign services or whether the payments were fair market value.”

We’re still waiting to hear back from some of those cited in the report and will update when we do.

  • If I am reading this report correctly, if a Member campaign committee re-imbursment was for less than $10,000, it was not listed … the reason that I mention that is that by only listing four current members, the implication is that Representatives Bachmann, Cravaack, Kline and McCollum did nothing wrong — also, the data pool was based on what they dug up … so it may be an incomplete reporting.

    In fact, as stated in your story Lawmakers typically use campaign funds to cover travel associated with campaigning. CREW also notes in its report that these payments to family are legal, so long as the family members was providing a bona fide service at fair market value.

    Thus, am I correct that the Minnesotans listed were all for payments paid by campaign funds or PAC, thus there is no taxpayer money involved … leaving the only concern that payments are for “fair market value” ?

    Should a contributor to a campaign be surprised that his donations was used to transport the candidate around the district … or pay for his/her meals or lodging ? I doubt that too many thought think that the candidate would pay for his own meal but let campaign pick up the meals of the other campaign workers.

    Obviously, the concern is that some may misinterpret that this is taxpayer dollars … I thought I had previously read complaints about Tim Walz paying for baby-sitting expenses (but Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) are not normally mentioned) and the Erik Paulsen payments to his wife were based on reporting in the Minnesota Independent, so they may get more attention … yet, will any ask about Raymond Cravaack keeping Rod Grams on his Congressional staff payroll all last year – and taxpayer dollars were used to pay Mr. Grams’ salary.

    All that said, the bigger story may be the “earmarks” and the association to “lobbyist”-family members … now that is taxpayer dollars and something that taxpayers were lead to believe was not happening :

    Top five representatives who earmarked to organizations affiliated with them or their family


    – Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) earmarked $28,364,000 to her son’s project.

    – Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) earmarked a combined $25,512,000 to three relatives’ organizations.

    – Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) earmarked a combined $16,580,400 to two son’s companies.

    – Rep. John Mica (R-FL) earmarked $13,000,000 to his daughter’s client.

    – Rep. Michael Simpson (R-ID) earmarked $12,498,639 to his wife’s employer.

    – In total, representatives earmarked $149,763,432 to organizations affiliated with

    themselves and their family members.

    THAT should be the focus … taxdollars not campaign funds paid to Members and their families.