WASHINGTON — For U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, campaigns and fund-raising are full of family connections.
During the last election cycle, Rogers' campaign committee paid the Washington, D.C.-based Levatino Group, which once employed his wife Cynthia, $16,892 for the company's fund-raising efforts.
In 2004, Senture, a call-services center, hired Rogers' son, John, just after the lawmaker helped the company net a $4 million contract to field calls from truckers, according to an article published last year in The New York Times. Since 2004, Senture has contributed $12,000 to Rogers' campaigns.
And every election cycle since 2002, Rogers' campaign committee has paid his daughter-in-law, Tracy Rogers, $24,000 to maintain a donor database or perform contract work, according to federal campaign finance documents and a report by a government watchdog group.
"I think people are surprised when they learn that the money they think is going to the campaign might be going into the lawmaker's family's pockets," said Melanie Sloan, executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal government watchdog group that recently released a report outlining how the families of some ranking House members were paid through campaign funds.
"It's a lot of money. In some ways Rogers is not unusual in that several members of his family have benefited," she said.
If it becomes law, an ethics reform measure passed last week by the House would prevent campaigns from hiring spouses and would require disclosure when lawmakers' other family members are hired.
Although some legislators and their families say such measures unfairly target them, critics say more needs to be done to curb conflicts of interest between lawmakers, their families, campaigns and donors.
Rogers staffers defend the connections, adding that John Rogers was never paid to work on Rogers' campaign.
"These voluntary contributions from employees of one organization are one of only several thousand the congressman has received over the last two decades, and are properly disclosed according to FEC guidelines," said Jim Pettit, a spokesman for Rogers. "Co-workers of the congressman's son are not prohibited by law from exercising their political rights and should not be."
Pettit said that Cynthia Rogers was a contract employee for the Levatino Group, and that she "performed fund-raising duties that included event planning and related activities." Pettit said those responsibilities "were short-term and the contract has been completed." He added that the activities were disclosed as required by the House Ethics Committee.
Pettit said that Tracy Rogers is a contract employee who performs administrative duties for the campaign, "including maintaining and updating the donor database and coordinating as necessary all logistics pertaining to any fund-raising activities in Kentucky."
The debate over campaigns paying lawmakers' family members is unfolding against the backdrop of broader congressional ethics reforms -- a controversial topic since the convictions of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The House passed a separate ethics reform measure yesterday that would require lobbyists to disclose campaign donations collected for lawmakers. Under that measure, members of Congress also would have to disclose when they include pet projects in large bills, a process known as earmarking.
Rogers, along with all of the other members of the Kentucky delegation, voted for the bill. The Senate might vote on the ethics reform bill this week before leaving for the August recess.
For years, as the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, Rogers has been able to steer millions of dollars into his southeastern Kentucky district through earmarking.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics said Rogers isn't the only member of Congress who looks out for both his district and family members.
The campaign committee for Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, paid six of his eight children. The campaign committee for Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., has paid Wamp's wife, Kim, a salary every year since 2003.
The campaign committee for Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., paid his daughter Gannon Gingrey Manning $50,400 in 2004, up from the $5,600 figure she was paid in 2002. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., paid his wife, three children and several in-laws to work on his campaign.
"It's kind of like the 'full employment for the family' act," Sloan said. "Sometimes you have to wonder what they were thinking."