A scathing report detailing the payments of U.S. Congress members to families was a gift to Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, a former El Paso city council member and Democratic primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the far West Texas 16th congressional district.
The investigative study found that Reyes spent campaign funds on his own reimbursement for expenses related to his campaign in 2008, as well as feathering his own family nest with payments to relatives for fundraising, travel expenses and political contributions. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington compiled the report.
"This shows that Reyes is working for himself, his family and those close to him," O'Rourke told the El Paso Times. "It makes it more clear than ever that we need reform in Washington, D.C. He paid his brother, Chuy. He paid himself. He paid his niece. He paid his niece's husband. The whole family was involved."
Reyes defended his expenditures, saying that he was pleased to have family that could help him. Which means apparently that he thinks such a practice is fine.
But while O’Rourke was speaking about reform in Washington, he forgot to mention his own payments to his business and family members of $22,800.
Campaign finance records for his city council races show that O’Rourke reimbursed his wife Amy $1,358 for expenses at Kinko’s and on election night for the May 2007 election.
He also paid his own company, Stanton Street Technology Group, $2,156 in 2005 and $1,147 in 2006 for web services.
O’Rourke’s federal campaign finance reports show he has paid Stanton Street Technology $17,786 for tech services since September. The campaign also reimbursed his sister-in-law, Marianna Sanders, $410 for utility bill payments and office supplies. Sanders said via email that her contributions of more than $3,700 "far outweigh any reimbursements I have received."
O’Rourke said that all expenditures, be they to family members or his business, are backed up by receipts that are open to the public for review.
“My wife and I have given well over $5,000 to the campaign,” O’Rourke said. “My company is the largest provider of Web-based services in this community, and I trust them to do right. By federal law, I have to be careful about paying them a prevailing rate and make sure I’m not getting an in-kind deal from a company that I have an ownership in.
“But you have Reyes using his campaign as an ATM for his family.”
The Reyes campaign did not return calls.
Steve Miller covers congressional campaigns for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
This story was updated May 2 with a corrected figure for reimbursements to Marianna Sanders.