Opinion

Democratic fundraisers hosted at home where GOP senator rents apartment from top aide

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,2014 Elections,Thad Cochran

A top aide to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., hosted two fundraisers for Democratic lawmakers during the wave elections of 2006 and 2008 at the home in which she lives and which she rents to her boss.

Kay Webber is Cochran's longtime executive assistant, someone so important to his duties that she frequently travels with him on official trips overseas. Cochran lists the basement apartment of her home on Maryland Avenue NE in Washington as his local residence.

"Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell and others say Webber, 76, who has worked for the senator for 33 years, is a key employee and trusted advisor," per the Clarion Ledger.

In one case, the house was used as a substitute for Democratic National Committee headquarters, when a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser for Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was postponed from June 3, 2008, to June 24, 2008. The June 24 event was a "Texas Style Barbecue" at the Webber House, according to Sunlight Foundation records. The event invitation also mentioned Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. Before the 2008 cycle, DCCC had previously hosted a campaign fundraiser at the Webber house on June 21, 2006, for Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

"She has events at her residence for political and non-political people such as engagement parties and wedding showers," Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell explained to the Washington Examiner.

It is true that Webber hosts a variety of events at the house, "an exquisite 1878 Victorian home," as the caption to a photo from a U.S. Senate Youth Alumni Association dinner in 2002 notes.

"[S]he rents her space out to whomever wants to use it,” Russell said. “It would be like Johnny’s Half Shell or any other event space in Washington discriminating against somebody based on their party affiliation. If somebody wants to rent the place from her, she rents it."

Russell also emphasized Cochran's independence from the rentals. "As I understand it, Senate ethics requires that you cannot exclude people from having events based on party affiliation," he said. "The house is Mrs. Webber’s, Sen. Cochran rents the separate basement apartment. The events do not occur in the residence that Sen. Cochran occupies."

Johnny's Half Shell is a restaurant near the Capitol building, whereas Webber is a longtime aide to a Republican senator facing a Tea Party challenge.

Republican primary voters who worry that Cochran is too cozy with Democrats may not be reassured by the idea that a longtime aide is sufficiently non-ideological that she allows her house to be used for Democratic fundraisers -- especially when she's described as so vital to the senator.

"Ms. Webber is a senior member of Sen. Cochran's staff with more than three decades of experience on Capitol Hill," Russell told Breitbart News. “Sen. Cochran makes these trips in his role as a senior member of important committees such as the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee and the Agriculture Committee. Sen. Cochran, like other members of the House and Senate, receive on-the-ground information during these trips that assist the senator when making important legislative decisions.”

During the 2008 presidential general election, Cochran praised the eventual President Obama, whom he knew from their time in the Senate together.

"He's very affable and charming, wonderful personality, very engaging personally, and diplomacy is a real important part of the job of the presidency, and I think he will do an excellent job in that respect," Cochran said. His campaign denied that this comment suggested any ideological affinity for Obama, noting that "every priority of Barack Obama in Washington since he's gotten there, Senator Cochran has been adamantly opposed to it, and I think that record speaks for itself," as spokesman Jordan Russell put it to National Review.

Cochran is in the home stretch of a tight Republican primary against Chris McDaniel, though a scandal has threatened to sidetrack McDaniel's campaign "as the state senator struggled to explain his connections to a campaign supporter who was accused of taking illegal photographs of Cochran's wife, Rose, and incorporating the Images into a political video attacking the incumbent posted on his weblog," as the Washington Examiner's David Drucker explained.

"Cochran’s wife suffers from advanced dementia and has lived in a nursing home since 2000. McDaniel repeatedly revised his story, including what he knew about the matter and when, as well as his campaign’s relationship with the suspect, Clayton Thomas Kelly."

Correction: This post has been changed to delete a reference to an individual who was incorrectly identified as the sister-in-law of former Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss.

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