In a year when he was saying government needed to tighten its belt to get through the recession, Rep. Todd Tiahrt increased spending on his taxpayer-funded congressional office by 11 percent, federal records show.
The 2009 increase included a 22 percent increase in personnel, which raised the payroll of Tiahrt's government office to slightly more than $1 million, according to the federal statement of disbursements.
Tiahrt, R-Goddard, is locked in a fierce campaign battle with Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Sam Brownback, who is running for governor.
A little more than half of the $196,000 of Tiahrt's increased staffing cost went to five people who also got salary and/or expense reimbursements for working on Tiahrt's Senate campaign, election disclosure forms show. Four of them recently were named members of Tiahrt's campaign leadership team.
Tiahrt spokesman Sam Sackett said the increased office expenses are largely a result of the election of Barack Obama as president, which inflamed constituents in the heavily Republican and conservative 4th District.
During the Bush administration, Tiahrt's office fielded about 50 to 60 calls a day. Now, it averages more than 200, Sackett said.
"We saw that spike with the election of President Obama," Sackett said. "We had to employ a number of people to answer phone calls."
He also said it's a common practice for congressional staffers to split time between official and campaign offices.
The increased government pay among the dual-role employees mostly went to a staffer hired back after nearly a year off and another who earned a master's degree, Sackett said.
He added that Tiahrt has "very loyal" staffers who stay a long time and several got raises based on seniority.
Tiahrt has frozen his office employees' pay for 2010, Sackett said.
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