Right off the bat, I want to make clear that I am not asserting any law-breaking on the part of 3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith's campaign or on the part of his family. But, the fact that Smith's father, Neal Smith - an insurance salesman and former chair of the Scotts Bluff County Republican Party - was the second biggest recipient of funds from his son's 2006 campaign raises some pretty big questions for which Rep. Smith definitely owes some answers.
Ranging from $75 amounts for "In-Kind Office Use" to amounts greater than $12,000 for "Payroll Processing," the elder Smith took in a total of $141,666 from 55 disbursements during the 2006 campaign cycle. According to the Center for Responsive Politics at OpenSecrets.org, only the Virginia-based communications firm Greener & Hook received more money from Adrian's campaign, taking in a whopping $535,000 for ad buys and media production.
It's hard to imagine what legitimate purpose there could possibly have been for the total disbursements of more than $116,000 to Neal Smith for this mysterious "Payroll Processing." To a suspicious mind, that has to sound like either a deliberately vague catch-all for a lot of different payments or else a pretty clear cut case of the Smith family keeping some of the controversial Club for Growth's money for themselves.
(Readers should remember that Adrian Smith's primary victory was fueled by mostly out-of-state contributions from the anti-farm subsidies, pro-corporate Club for Growth - the membership of which ultimately donated around $400,000 to his campaign.)
In other words, Neal Smith appears to have been getting while the getting was good. And, there's some evidence he may not have been alone in doing so.
Adrian Smith's mother, Joanna - Secretary of the Nebraska Republican Party - received a paltry $1,500 from the campaign, but Adrian himself had a take of almost $23,000. Like father like son?
Of course, these payments by the campaign might all be entirely on the level, but they just open the door to so many possibilities for corruption as the line between a campaign's accounts and a candidate's personal income all but disappears. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reports:
It is illegal to spend campaign funds for personal use, but it is not illegal to use them to pay family members who provide "bona fide services" at fair-market value....In Western Nebraska, it takes a whole lot of bona fide services to reach a fair market value greater than $140,000. Remember, we're talking about a Congressional District with 4 of the 10 poorest counties in the nation. This is a sum big enough that it can't help but raise eyebrows and invite a much higher degree of public scrutiny.
Although paying family members with campaign funds is not an uncommon practice in Congress, election watchdogs say it is controversial because it can be difficult to measure the quality and quantity of services being provided....
The issue of paying campaign funds to family members gained national attention [in 2005] when it became public that [resigned House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay, R-Texas, had paid more than $500,000 to his wife and daughter since 2001...DeLay was indicted in Texas on unrelated charges of conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme.
I want to personally thank Lisa at SmithWatch for bringing this issue to light. Hers is quickly becoming one of the best politician-specific blogs in the country, and she has done an absolutely wonderful job of challenging Smith's record and holding him accountable - two vital functions in a working democracy that our local media have essentially abandoned.
I commend SmithWatch for its continuously impressive efforts, and I can't help but notice that Smith seems scared about being subjected to this close of scrutiny by one of his own constituents. Not only was Smith searching desperately for an online mouthpiece to counter SmithWatch last month, but it even seems he's trying to obscure his critics by recruiting a blogger from Kearney to start a seemingly worthless blog that will say nice things about him now being referred to as Adrian Smith Watch, This Old House, and the Adrian Smith Report by Nebraska's rightwing blog community.
Try as they might, I've got a feeling they won't have much success at silencing the real SmithWatch - which more and more readers will find so long as Adrian Smith keeps acting like Adrian Smith in Congress.
With this $140,000 payment to his father and this $23,000 payment to himself, Adrian Smith and his family have some serious explaining to do. What was going on in the Smith campaign, and what is this mysterious "payroll processing" that was supposedly worth more than 116,000 dollars? Seriously, I think a lot of people might be interested in that line of work - whatever it is - unless all it entails is Neal Smith just getting paid for being the candidate's father.
The people expect answers and deserve the truth. And, they can count on SmithWatch and the New Nebraska Network standing right here to see that they get them.