For some, politics a family matter

For some, politics a family matter

August 3rd, 2010 by Dan Whisenhunt in Politics

Behind the scenery of a candidate posing with their spouse and kids in a glossy ad there's a real world where families campaign together.

In some cases, these family members become part of the campaign staff.

Zach Wamp, the GOP 3rd District congressman who's running for governor, provides an example of this practice. Wamp's sister, Allison Brewster, handles the campaign's financial management and Wamp's son, Weston, handles "e-communications" for the campaign, according to spokesman Sam Edelen.

"Both are paid for their work on the campaign, and Zach believes it is perfectly appropriate as long as real work and real responsibilities are being fulfilled," Edelen said via e-mail. "All other Wamp family members are part-time volunteers working with thousands of other Zach Wamp volunteers to help elect him governor."

In the past, Wamp's wife, Kim, has worked for her husband's congressional campaigns, making a base salary of $2,000 a month. This year, Wamp's campaign paid her $438, which Edelen said was a reimbursement for food and supplies.

Brewster has been on the campaigns payroll since 2009 and, in 2010, Wamp's campaign paid her $7,071, records show. Wamp has hired Weston's employer, AkinsCrisp Public Strategies, for the campaign and this year has paid the company $53,735.

David Smith, a spokesman for GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, said Haslam's campaign does not employ family members.

Rachel Taylor, a spokeswoman for GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey also said the campaign does not employ Ramsey's family members.

Shelby White, a communications director for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter, said the campaign employs no family members.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, said candidates who pay members of their families may raise questions and ethical concerns.

"Is that person being paid a fair amount? Are they qualified to do the job or is this just a way of siphoning off campaign funds to a relative?" Oppenheimer asked. "It's the same thing when campaigns rent space or buy things. Do they buy them for friends and relatives?"

He said it is "fairly common" for family members to volunteer for candidates, and several local candidates report that their families are actively seeking votes with them.

GOP 3rd Congressional District candidate Robin Smith, former chairwoman of the state GOP, said she would not "feel comfortable" paying a family member. But her son and daughter are in one of her TV campaign ads, saying she "did a great job running the Tennessee Republican Party."

Tyler Howell, the stepson of GOP 3rd Congressional District candidate Tommy Crangle, said he holds the title of campaign coordinator, but said he is not paid by the campaign.

Brent Staton, a Democrat running for the 3rd District nomination, said his wife, son and daughter-in-law campaign with him. He said the ethics of putting family members on the campaign's pay roll would be "questionable."

Brenda Freeman Short, another Democratic 3rd Congressional District candidate, said her sister serves as her treasurer, but she is unpaid.