Rep. Deal’s Staffer Returns Payments

Aide Exceeded Limit on Outside Income

Posted April 30, 2008 at 6:40pm

Chris Riley, the chief of staff to Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), has returned more than $90,000 that he was paid by the lawmaker’s campaign committee from 2004 to 2007 because it exceeded the outside income limits set under House rules for top Congressional staff.

When Roll Call pointed out that he had exceeded the income limits, Riley immediately took steps to reimburse the campaign and file new financial disclosure forms with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Riley said he was unaware of the outside income limits at the time of the payments and that the failure to disclose the income was an oversight.

Under House rules, “senior staff” are required to file personal financial disclosure forms and are not allowed to receive outside income in excess of “15 percent of the rate of pay for Level II of the Executive Schedule” according to the new House Ethics Manual. The salary level that qualifies a Congressional staffer as “senior staff” and the dollar figure for the income limit both change each year. For 2008, a “senior staff” member is anyone earning $114,468 (or paid at that rate for more than 90 days) and the outside income limit is $25,830.

From 2004 to 2007, the outside income limits rose from $23,715 to $25,200.

But Riley — whose Congressional salary rose from $148,000 in 2004 to $159,000 in 2007, according to financial data complied by LegiStorm — also was paid about $39,000 by the campaign in 2004, $33,000 in 2005, $88,000 in 2006 and $31,000 in 2007. He did not report the outside income on his financial disclosure forms as required.

On Wednesday, after being contacted by Roll Call, Riley filed amended disclosure forms with the House ethics committee reporting income from the campaign at the maximum level allowed for each year. In a letter to the committee, he said, “I have repaid Nathan Deal for Congress the entire amount of income that I received over the maximum outside income allowed,” a total of $93,202.

“I had absolutely no intent of trying to keep this from the committee or the public’s view,” Riley wrote. The failure to report income “was a complete oversight on my behalf, and has been correctly corrected with the help of your counsel.”

In an e-mail to Roll Call, Riley said, “I would hope that my actions from the moment you called have shown that I had no intentions of deceiving anyone or attempting to bypass disclosure because the campaign FEC report clearly shows the disbursement of funds to me. I regret this oversight on my part and the light it has shown on the Congressman. It clearly was an oversight.”

Last summer Roll Call reported that Riley was rumored to be a potential candidate for Deal’s seat should Deal decide not to run for re-election.

But Deal filed papers this week declaring his candidacy for re-election, and Riley said he has no intent to run for office.

It is not uncommon for Congressional staff to earn second incomes working on campaigns, and many staff members have made tens of thousands of dollars during campaign years. But in general these staff members take a lower Congressional salary to avoid the restrictions on outside income.

House rules also allow Congressional staffers to go on “leave without pay,” during which time their campaign income does not count toward the limits on outside income. Thus staff members earning more than $110,000 from their Congressional salaries also have been able to earn tens of thousands of dollars in campaign salaries by going on leave for some period of the year.