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Members’ Office Accounts Misstated

In a scene that echoes the House Bank scandal of the early 1990s, recently released quarterly spending records show dozens of Members with office accounts — covering staff salaries, supplies and travel expenses — in the red by thousands of dollars three months before the close of the 110th Congress.

Only it’s all a mistake.

An accounting error in the Statement of Disbursements of the House, the record of how House Members use their annual office budgets, inflated the running totals of each office by as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars in the third quarter of 2008.

“The year-to-date totals in the Statement of Disbursements are not accurate because the third-quarter results were counted twice, giving an inaccurate picture of the Members’ accounts,” said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. The CAO compiles information in the three-volume report.

“The error is being corrected and a reprinting will occur,” Ventura said.

An immediate estimate on the cost of the reprinting was not available, although in 2004 the Government Printing Office spent an estimated $18,000 to reprint the disbursement books after an index was omitted from the publication.

Nonetheless, at least one House Member actually is keeping a keen eye on the bottom line in the final months of the session.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) reported spending more than 80 percent of his Congressional office budget in the first six months of 2008 — a rare occurrence among House offices — forcing him to make administrative cuts to finish out the year without exceeding his budget.

Each House lawmaker is provided with a Members’ Representational Allowance to provide for items such as staff salaries, official travel and office supplies.

According to the House disbursement records, each office received at least $1.1 million in 2008 for their MRA, with many budgets, including Broun’s, listed at $1.3 million to $1.4 million.

At the end of the third quarter in late September, Broun’s records indicate the office has about $152,000 in the bank remaining from its $1.38 million allowance.

Among the notable expenditures, the Georgia lawmaker spent more than $250,000 on franked mailings to constituents, a policy that he defended earlier this year.

“My office budget has reflected my focus on communicating directly with constituents. That is as it should be, and I make no apology for putting the people first,” Broun said in August.

A Broun spokesman declined to offer details last week, asserting the office’s records were inaccessible in the midst of an office move.

Spokesman Bryan Partridge did state, however, that the office would come in under budget for 2008.

Broun indicated earlier this year that he would make “administrative adjustments” in light of the budget challenges.

He did not offer details, but spending records indicate that at least eight aides left the office in late July or early August. In addition, four more staff members do not appear on payroll documents after June.

Spending records indicate six people remained employed in one of Broun’s offices in late September, when the quarter ended.

Partridge confirmed that the office now employs 10 people on a full- or part-time basis between the Washington, D.C., and three district offices. That total is half of the 20 full- or part-time workers listed in records ending in June 2008.

At least two aides listed at one time on Broun’s House payroll also appear on his campaign payroll: Jordan Chinouth, listed only as a “part-time employee” on House records, and Jessica Morris, listed as “part-time” and press secretary. It is not unusual for House aides to take unpaid leave to participate in a campaign.

According to other Georgia House offices, Broun has not sought any assistance with constituent services or other needs, despite operating with a skeleton staff. Although House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had also offered assistance to Broun, there is no indication that the Georgian has opted for that help.

If a Member exceeds the office’s annual MRA, no other funds are available to the office and any overdraft may be taken out of a Member’s Congressional salary.

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