The Sunlight Foundation in Washington, D.C., has announced a new distributed reporting project that will enable citizen journalists to investigate and record their research on members of the House of Representatives.
Using online tools, members of the Congressional Spouse Project will be able to research the campaigns of members of Congress, who sometimes hire their significant others and pay them from campaign funds — in effect, allowing their political fundraising to add to their household income. The practice is not illegal, as long as campaigns pay fair-market value for a spouse's services. High-profile members of Congress who have had family members on their campaign payroll include former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), and Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA). The foundation will verify all information with the campaigns.
"It's time to find out how many members of Congress are channeling campaign contributions into their pockets by paying their spouse," said Bill Allison, Sunlight's director of investigative projects. "It could take a reporter weeks to pore through all the filings for 435 members of the House, but by engaging volunteer citizen journalists online, we expect to have the answer in a matter of days."
The project is the first in a series of distributed-research efforts designed to harness the talents and energy of the general public to provide greater citizen oversight of Congress. Future projects will investigate the campaign activities of Senate spouses, children, and other relatives, as well as scrutinize the familial relationships of those who work for political action committees, fundraising firms, or registered lobbyists.