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Donations for a Congressman, Profits for His Wife

By Thomas B. Edsall and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, April 16, 2006

On Capitol Hill, there is widespread agreement that the annual congressional salary of $165,200 just does not go far enough on today's dollar. The clamor for ethics reform will likely make things tougher, forcing congressmen to pick up lunch and dinner tabs and pay their own way to Redskins games.

One enterprising member of the House, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), and his wife, Julie Doolittle, have found an innovative -- and apparently legal -- way to boost the family salary.

Julie Doolittle has set up a fundraising company, Sierra Dominion Financial Services. Two of her clients are John Doolittle's campaign committee and his leadership PAC, the Superior California Federal Leadership Fund. Julie Doolittle's company gets 15 cents of every dollar raised by her husband's political committees.

The United Parcel Service PAC, for example, has given $15,000 to the leadership PAC and $10,000 to the campaign committee, which, in turn, means a commission of $3,750 for Julie Doolittle's company.

Overall, in the 2005-2006 election cycle, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, Sierra Dominion has collected $82,127 from the Doolittle committees. That is already ahead of the $77,947 in commissions in the 2003-2004 cycle, even with nine months to go until the election.

Asked about the propriety of Julie Doolittle's profiting from campaign contributions to her husband, Doolittle spokesman Richard Robinson replied by e-mail: "Sierra Dominion's compensation is based entirely upon performance in that it receives a percentage of what it is directly involved in raising. This arrangement is not only consistent with that of other fundraisers, but was designed to avoid the appearance that Sierra Dominion is compensated for anything other than its tireless and effective work."

Robinson contended that "having family members paid for such work is both legal and ethical." He said that "the Federal Election Commission approved such activity in 2001 when it issued a formal advisory opinion to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who wanted to hire his wife as a campaign consultant, and the House Ethics Committee has advised us that such activity is in compliance with the House rules so long as compensation is consistent with the market rate."

Julie Doolittle and Sierra Dominion Financial Services have become issues in John Doolittle's reelection bid. The controversy involves not only the commissions from the political committees but also payments to Sierra Dominion by Jack Abramoff and Abramoff's former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, to raise money for Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation, a charity. On Jan. 3, Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.

Union vs. University of Miami

Two important figures in the Democratic Party -- Service Employees International Union President Andrew L. Stern and University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala -- are at loggerheads in a fight to organize janitors at the university.

Stern is aggressively pressing Shalala, who was secretary of health and human services during the Clinton administration, to intervene on behalf of the janitors seeking to form a union. The janitors work for a private Boston-based company, UNICCO, hired as an outside contractor by the university.

Stern, who has criticized Shalala in a commentary on the liberal Huffington Post Web site, wants her to pressure UNICCO to allow janitors to decide to unionize under a system called a card check, instead of through a secret-ballot election held under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board.

Under the card-check system, if accepted by the employer, a union is recognized when a majority of workers sign cards declaring their support.

In an interview, Shalala said she cannot intervene, for a variety of reasons. First, she said, it would be wrong on principle to oppose an election. Second, she argued: "It's not our fight -- Andy and our contractor are having a fight, and I'm trying to stay out of it. Andy keeps trying to drag me into it."

The Politics of Students

A new poll by scholars at Harvard University found that religion and morality are playing important roles in shaping the politics of college students of all political leanings.

More than half of students interviewed at schools around the country said they are worried about the moral direction of the country. But the poll, conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard, also noted that students were sharply divided along party lines over whether religion ought to play a strong role in politics and government.

Fifty-six percent of Republicans thought it should, but only a fifth, or about 20 percent, of Democrats agreed. The poll found that college students did not fall neatly along liberal and conservative lines. While the largest group of students was still traditional liberals (44 percent), the numbers of religious centrists (25 percent) and traditional conservatives (16 percent) have grown in the past year. The number of secular centrists (15 percent) has declined.

The study's authors noted that the religious centrists are a key group for politicians to watch. "Optimistic about the future and very likely to participate in elections, the Religious Centrists' views are characterized by a deep concern over the moral direction of the country that is likely influenced by opposition to Roe v. Wade and belief that homosexuality is immoral," they wrote.

Moving into real-world politics, the poll showed that college students have a more dismal view of the job President Bush is doing than the general public has, with only 33 percent approving. As for Bush's possible successor, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) each received 40 percent support in a presidential matchup.

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