2 Arizona Democrats pumped up payrolls after loss
Harry Mitchell spends our money like a drunken sailor after loosingSource
2 Arizona Democrats pumped up payrolls after loss
Mitchell, Kirkpatrick spent more than $200,000 in 2 days
by Dan Nowicki - Jun. 11, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Two Arizona Democrats ousted by voters in last year's congressional elections spent lavishly on their staffs in their final days and weeks in office.
Former Reps. Harry Mitchell and Ann Kirkpatrick each spent considerably more on taxpayer-funded payroll expenses in the fourth quarter of 2010 than they did on average for the first three quarters of the year, reflecting end-of-the-year bonuses or salary raises, according to LegiStorm, an independent and nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, D.C., that monitors congressional spending on staff.
Mitchell and Kirkpatrick then spent more than $100,000 each on their staffs in their final two days in office earlier this year, more than all but two of the 93 defeated or retiring House members, LegiStorm found.
Mitchell, who lost his seat in the Nov. 2 election to Republican David Schweikert, spent $120,790.51 on his payroll on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. Schweikert's term officially began Jan. 3.
Kirkpatrick, who lost her seat to Republican Paul Gosar and who already is running to win it back in 2012, spent $105,294.63, some of it on merit bonuses and accrued leave, during the final 48 hours of her single House term, LegiStorm found.
A review of Kirkpatrick's payroll records also indicates that she hired three ex-political aides as congressional staff assistants on Nov. 11, nine days after Gosar beat her at the ballot box. She paid the three former campaign aides a combined total of $22,433.31 through Jan. 2.
The only two departing House members who paid more to staff than Mitchell and Kirkpatrick in those final two days of the previous Congress were former Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., who spent $225,121.42 on his staff, and former Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who paid $127,827.87.
Only 24 of the 93 exiting lawmakers spent more than $50,000 during those two days, and only five spent more than $100,000, according to LegiStorm's analysis. Of those leaving, 33 members distributed less than $12,000 each.
Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., who did not seek re-election last year, spent only $9,641 on payroll during his final two days.
Kirkpatrick's office actually reported $178,427.83 as her two-day first-quarter payroll, but LegiStorm concluded that the number included backdated fourth-quarter spending on staff.
To allow for a fairer comparison with other congressional offices, LegiStorm separated the fourth-quarter payroll increases and included them in Kirkpatrick's fourth-quarter total. That makes Kirkpatrick's payroll for 2010's final quarter $321,856, a more than $100,000 increase over her average for the first three quarters, which LegiStorm put at $206,519.
Mitchell's fourth-quarter payroll was $301,731, also a sizable boost over his previous quarterly average of $213,803. Shadegg's fourth-quarter figure was $290,598, also up from his 2010 quarterly average of $273,620. Because the House and Senate don't have a standard way for reporting employee bonuses, it's impossible to know precisely what the extra money was for just by looking at the raw payroll numbers, said Jock Friedly, president and founder of LegiStorm.
Bonuses tend to come at the end of the year when the lawmakers get a handle on how much money they have left over in their office budgets. They are under no obligation to spend every dime. They can return the unused money, which eventually goes to the U.S. Treasury.
"This money is theirs to spend in that they have been allotted a certain amount of money (to run their offices)," Friedly said. "It's not like there's anything illegal; but obviously, in tight fiscal times, taxpayers are eager to see signs that members of Congress are showing fiscal restraint. And, obviously, paying out big bonuses at the end of the year is a bit of a political problem for them."
Some House offices categorized lump-sum bonuses, payouts for unused vacation time and overtime as "other compensation." Some offices rewarded staff by boosting salaries at the end of the year. Mitchell's office identified more than $112,500 of his two-day total in early January as "other compensation." Kirkpatrick's office indentified nearly $109,000 as "other compensation," according to LegiStorm.
"The data can, in individual cases, not tell the full picture," Friedly said. "But I think, across the board, it's quite clear what's going on, and it's bonuses."
More than three out of every four members of the House awarded bonuses to their staff in 2009, according to responses to a 2010 survey of 130 offices by the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer of the House. The average bonus amount that year was $3,248, the survey said.
Efforts to reach Mitchell and Kirkpatrick for comment were unsuccessful. Derek Frome, Kirkpatrick's campaign spokesman, defended her fiscal judgment by noting that, beginning in March 2010, she voluntarily cut her own pay and that, over the course of her two-year term, gave back money from her office budget.
"During her time in Congress, Rep. Kirkpatrick's office returned over $100,000 in unused office funds to taxpayers, and she led by example by writing 5 percent of her own salary back to pay down the debt," Frome said in a written statement. But Republicans used Kirkpatrick's post-defeat payroll expenses to paint her as an extravagant spender.
"This is just another example of how reckless Ann Kirkpatrick was with taxpayer money while in Congress," said Tyler Q. Houlton, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Along with Kirkpatrick's support of the government takeover of health care (President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul) and failed stimulus bill, Arizonans simply can't trust her to stand up to Washington's spending culture."
Michael Frias, Kirkpatrick's former chief of staff, in 2010 collected an annual salary of $168,399.11. Congressional staff members legally cannot be paid more than $168,411 a year or $14,034.25 a month. In the first two days of 2011, Frias got an additional $14,033.34, including $13,097.78 listed as "other compensation," according to the staff salary database on LegiStorm's website.
Frome was one of two former 2010 Kirkpatrick campaign staffers who joined Kirkpatrick's congressional staff shortly after the election. Maya Rao was the other. Carly Regina, who Frome said worked on Kirkpatrick's 2008 campaign, came aboard Nov. 11. Their temporary assignment was to help wind down Kirkpatrick's congressional offices in the wake of her defeat.
Brian Tumulty of the Gannett Washington Bureau contributed to this article.
U.S. Congressman Harry Mitchell