Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) paid thousands more in campaign funds to her daughter on the heels of Republicans ramping up their efforts to oppose family members of lawmakers profiting off campaigns, filings show.
Waters’s campaign shelled out $8,000 in September to Karen Waters, a surplus to the over $1 million her daughter has raked in from the campaign since 2003, according to Federal Election Commission filings. But scrutiny over lawmakers paying family members with campaign money has heightened as of late, with some Republicans aiming to bar the practice through legislation.
The over $1 million given to Karen Waters, including the $8,000, has been for slate-mailer operations. Karen Waters has also been paid for things such as “administrative services,” “fundraising,” and “rally expenses,” according to filings.
Slate mailing refers to a practice in which campaigns or consulting firms create pamphlets for voters that include information such as candidate lists, ballot measures, endorsements, and recommendations. Maxine Waters was reportedly the only federal lawmaker to use the practice during the 2020 general election, but it is common in California and Oregon, according to Ballotpedia.
While paying family members with campaign funds is not illegal, it is often frowned upon by ethics and legal experts. The FEC permits the practice so long as the family member is paid “fair market value,” but it is unclear how the agency determines this threshold.
“With payments to family members, this can be difficult to determine because, unlike payments to others, there may be incentive to pay a family member more or pay them for work that is not needed,” Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, an ethics watchdog, told the Washington Examiner.
“This makes it difficult for the public to determine whether the payments complied with the law,” she added.
In June, Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) introduced the Family Integrity to Reform Elections Act, which would bar an “immediate family member of a candidate or an individual holding federal office” from being paid with campaign money. The bill would also mandate campaign penalties for those violating this rule.
It is unclear where this measure stands now that House Republicans will have a majority come January. Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX), one of the 10 GOP co-sponsors of it, told the Washington Examiner that Maxine Waters’s campaign has no business paying her daughter.
“There’s virtually zero oversight into politicians self-enriching themselves and their families,” said Nehls. “I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor of Rep. Fallon’s FIRE Act to block the use of campaign funds to pay family members of a candidate or politician holding public office. We need accountability in Washington, and this is a significant first step.”
Members of Congress have long come under fire for paying their family members. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-wing watchdog, published a report in 2012 that called out 82 members (42 Republicans, 40 Democrats) for lending a helping hand to family members working in their congressional offices, political action committees, and campaign committees.
Another lawmaker who has showered his family members with campaign funds is House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), who has given them over $250,000, filings show.
Waters’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.