Washington Briefs: Alexander's donations to salaries

by jordan blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, found himself highlighted this past week in a USA Today story as one of several lawmakers who uses campaign donations to pay family members to work on the lawmakers congressional campaigns.

In Alexander’s case, this is nothing new. One daughter, Lisa Lowe, has been in charge of his day-to-day campaign finances for several years, while his wife, Nancy, used to work in charge of his Federal Election Commission filings. When his wife got tired of doing the work, Alexander said, his other daughter, Ginger Robinson, replaced her.

Federal nepotism laws typically prevent lawmakers from paying family members with taxpayers’ dollars. But, in this case, and with more than 20 other members of Congress, Alexander uses private donations to fund those working on his campaigns.

In the most recent election cycle from January 2011 to the end of 2012, Lowe received more than $70,000 and Robinson was paid more than $55,000, according to FEC records.

Alexander argued he is actually saving money by hiring his daughters, adding that Lowe has a finance degree and that Robinson is a certified public accountant.

“They’re very capable of what they do,” Alexander said. “I could pay someone else $100,000 with a GED to do it and no one would ask a question.”

Alexander said he decided to turn to family members after he switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 2004. He said he had a former campaign staffer, who was upset about his party switch, had destroyed many of his campaign finance reports and financial information.

“It was a horror story when I changed parties,” Alexander said. “I wanted to get somebody who I could at least count on not to turn their backs on me.”

Cassidy attacks Landrieu

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, has not yet announced he is running against Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in 2014 as expected, but he is already attacking her in his fundraising letters.

In a campaign release on Friday, Cassidy criticized Landrieu on her votes regarding the Senate budget proposal. Landrieu opposed a failed Republican amendment that would have required the budget plan to balance over 10 years.

Cassidy also again targeted Landrieu for backing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

“Like you, I believe we need smarter spending in Washington and policies that create new taxpayers, not new taxes,” Cassidy wrote to supporters. “I also believe that Obamacare is destructive for our health care system and is already starting to show its many flaws with rising costs for small businesses and rapidly increased insurance premiums.”

Cassidy encourages nonprofit

Cassidy filed the Accessing Medicare Therapies Act that is intended to help low- and middle-income seniors pay for expensive prescription drugs by using more public-private partnerships.

The bill is meant to encourage manufacturers to donate prescription drugs through a pre-existing tax credit that is already used for cash donations to help Medicare Part D beneficiaries.

The drugs would be distributed and provided to qualified seniors by non-profit patient assistance programs approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Senior citizens with chronic diseases and modest incomes often face punishing prescription drug costs,” Cassidy said in the announcement. “They are caught between exceeding the maximum income limit for drug subsides and having the income necessary to pay for their drugs. This bill would encourage drug manufacturers to donate those drugs through Medicare to help these individuals.”

Richmond files anti-terror bill

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, filed legislation with colleagues this week in an effort to close a potential loophole that could allow alleged terrorists to take flight training in the United States.

Under existing law, flight instructors, pilot schools and aviation training centers can provide flight training to a U.S. citizen without checking with the Transportation Security Administration on whether that person poses a homeland or national security risk. The Flight School Security Act co-sponsored by Richmond seeks to close that potential loophole.

“This bill strengthens our ability to close any safety gaps and prevents flight schools in this country from blindly aiding or abetting anyone who is on the terrorist watch list, a precaution that can save lives,” Richmond said in the announcement.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.