DeLauro Campaign Finances Raise Questions

Federal campaign records reveal a self-dealing relationship between a senior Democratic Connecticut congresswoman and her husband’s political consulting firm.

In the last four congressional election cycles, the campaign committee for Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Friends of Rosa DeLauro, transferred $1.2 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which in the same period paid $1.9 million to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for polling and other services, according to Federal Election Commission ( FEC) filings. Stanley B. Greenberg, founding partner of GQRR, is DeLauro’s husband of 33 years.

“It’s certainly pretty obnoxious. It’s a circuitous way of getting money into her own pocket, there’s no question about that,” said Cleta D. Mitchell, well-known ethics law and campaign finance attorney with Washington-based Foley & Lardner LLP.

“It’s just a one of those classic one-hand-works-with-the other, I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine deals that I think have made a lot of people very cynical about politicians,” said Charles A. Pillsbury, who ran against DeLauro on the Green Party ticket in 2010.

According to disclosure forms, DeLauro’s campaign donated $275,000 to the DCCC in the 2005-2006 election cycle, nearly double her $140,000 donation in the previous cycle, and the DCCC paid GQRR $382,996—down from the $472,708 GQRR received in 2003—in 2004.

In the 2007-2008 cycle, however, DeLauro’s campaign presented $51,400 to the DCCC in October alone, as the year’s total rose to $376,406, and DCCC payment to GQRR increased to $464,200.

In the 2009-2010 cycle, DeLauro’s campaign raised its special October donation to $107,500. This increase helped push the year’s total to $432,506. In the same cycle, the DCCC paid GQRR in two separate filings of $298,967 and $289,834, for a total of $588,801.

These transfers propelled Friends of Rosa DeLauro to rank among the DCCC’s top contributors in 2009-2010.

“It doesn’t look good, and, quite frankly, it smells rotten,” said attorney Hans A. von Spakovsky, who leads the Civil Justice Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation.

DeLauro, who is in the top 10 percent of the wealthiest members of Congress, has won her past four elections by margins usually above 20 percent and sometimes even above 50 percent.

Pillsbury said that DeLauro has long been using her finances to gain power in the Democratic Party and that the whole situation is symptomatic of how financial interests in both parties undermine U.S. democracy.

Kenneth F. Boehm, a campaign finance expert and chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, said DeLauro’s situation is perfectly legal, even though the funds DeLauro donates to help the DCCC may be re-entering her household through her husband’s business.

Boehm said that legality and propriety do not always coincide: Under current FEC regulations a self-dealing candidate can even pay a spouse for campaign services.

Democratic legislators have been pushing for campaign finance reform to prevent similar self-dealing. Before his June 21st resignation, former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D.-N.Y.) sponsored the “Honest Services Restoration Act.”

According to Weiner’s standard, “The term `undisclosed self-dealing’ means:

`(A) a public official performs an official act for the purpose, in whole or in part, of benefitting or furthering a financial interest of:

`(i) the public official;

`(ii) the spouse or minor child of a public official…”

In the past, DeLauro supported campaign finance reforms, including the Fair Elections Now Act, which limits corporate donations, and the DISCLOSE Act, which raises transparency requirements on campaign contributors.

Capital University Law Prof. Bradley A. Smith, who was chairman of the FEC in 2004, said that self-dealing relationships are not necessarily corrupt, punishable by law or even uncommon.

Smith said, “it’s not just a conflict of interest, it just looks bad. It looks like she’s raising money and giving it to herself.”

This kind of exchange is a common consequence of a highly restrictive federal election system, Smith said, citing examples of self-dealing from the campaigns of Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D.-S.D.), Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D.-Conn.) and Sen. John S. McCain III (R.-Ariz.): “This is what Washington is now.”

The DCCC heavily pressures successful candidates like DeLauro to donate as much as possible, Smith said. “It’s a consequence of the sort of laws we have that make it tough for the party to distribute money and tough for the party to raise money.”

Under the current system, it is difficult to respond to DeLauro’s situation, or even to decide what she should do to avoid a conflict of interest, Smith said. Changing the system would avoid such conflicts of interest.

“I would abolish the whole campaign finance system, and, at that point, there’d be little reason for Rosa DeLauro to be raising funds for the Democratic Party,” he said.

Mitchell said that often politicians will support campaign finance reform without any intention of abiding by it themselves.

Connecticut Conservative Capitalist blogger and radio host Wayne A. Winsley said, “it indicates an attitude of good enough for thee, but not for me, and that’s what we have to change in Washington.”

Mitchell said that DeLauro should be held to the standard she would support on the House floor. “She should notify her donors, if you give me money, I’m going to transfer it, I’m going to transfer big buckets of what you give to give to the congressional campaign committee, who then hires my husband.”

Winsley said that situations like DeLauro’s arise when politicians forget that with which the public entrusts them is not theirs to use as they please.

George Mason University Law Prof. Jerry Brito said that he felt uncomfortable describing the DeLauro campaign actions as self-dealing, but praised the transparency system that would allow voters to decide. “Public constituents will no doubt ask of their member, what is the story here? The member of Congress would have to explain what happened.”

Pillsbury said that while he found the campaign finance information interesting, DeLauro’s situation does not surprise him. “It’s a good example of how corrupt both major parties are. Money has conquered both the Democrats and the Republicans.”

Jerry Labriola, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party and DeLauro’s other opponent in 2010, said, “Rosa DeLauro has established a persona of being a champion of the safety net while at the same time being a champion of amassing great wealth for herself and her husband during her tenure in office. “Regrettably, her support of Obama’s failed economic policies will prevent others in her district from ever attaining such wealth.”

While writing this story, an editor and reporter from Human Events met with Kaelan Richards, the communications director for Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro in the congresswoman’s Capitol Hill office to lay out the substance of this article and obtain DeLauro’s reaction. At Richards’ request, Human Events submitted questions in writing shortly after the meeting but there was no response.