By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has built a national following largely by preaching an isolationist foreign policy. Stick with your own kind, says the maverick presidential candidate.
And that's more or less what he has been doing over the past few months, putting relatives in a slew of key positions and paying them a total of $169,063, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Paul's granddaughter Valori Pyeatt helps organize fundraising receptions and has been paid $17,157. Another granddaughter, Laura Paul ($2,724), handles orders for Ron Paul merchandise. Grandson Matthew Pyeatt ($3,251) manages Paul's MySpace profile. Daughter Peggy Paul ($2,224) helps with campaign logistics. The candidate's sons Randall and Robert and his daughter Joy Paul LeBlanc have all been paid for campaign travel and for appearing as surrogates at political events.
Who keeps track of all these finances? Paul's brother and daughter, naturally, who have been paid a combined $62,740 to handle the campaign's accounting.
Campaign aides said they discussed the possibility that involving so many family members could create the impression that nepotism was driving hiring decisions, but ultimately they saw no problem with the practice.
"You always think about those kinds of things," said Jesse Benton, Paul's spokesman and, it just so happens, the fiance of one of the candidate's granddaughters (he has been paid $54,573). "But his family is very important to him. There is something important about having a family element involved in a campaign. Having people around you that you can unconditionally trust."
Paul has received relatively few votes in his insurgent bid for the Republican nomination, but he has attracted an extraordinarily dedicated following that has flooded his campaign coffers with more than $30 million in donations. Even after releasing a video on his Web site in March indicating that he no longer expected to win the Republican nomination, Paul has continued to collect and spend those riches.
Most of the money has gone to typical campaign expenses such as television, radio and Internet ads, travel, and political advice from consultants and strategists. But unlike other presidential candidates, Paul has also made room on his payroll for his extended brood.
There are no laws prohibiting candidates from hiring relatives, though the Federal Election Commission does require family members to be qualified for the job and be paid the going rate for their work. Melanie Sloan of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said her organization has twice issued reports critical of the practice among members of Congress.
"This was never intended to be a family business," Sloan said. "The reason this is troubling is that it's not clear to donors whether their campaign donations are really going to support the candidacy or to support the family."
Sloan said this was not the first time Paul has hired relatives to perform campaign work on his behalf. The group found payments to daughter Lori Pyeatt during his three previous congressional races, and payments to grandson Matthew Pyeatt and daughter Joy LeBlanc during Paul's 2004 congressional campaign.
An added concern with the presidential campaign, Sloan said, is that Paul has fundamentally transformed his bid for the White House into something more ephemeral. Spending by the campaign has slowed considerably over the past month. Paul spent $470,862 in April, leaving him with $4.7 million remaining.
The way Benton explains it, the candidate has "acknowledged that he is not going to be the nominee" but is "continuing a positive, respectful campaign to influence the policies of the Republican Party."
And this "second phase," as Benton describes it, is financed by the money raised largely during the first phase, when people were sending contributions to fuel Paul's presidential ambitions.
Now, as he tours the country, Paul is drawing attention to his book, "The Revolution: A Manifesto," which currently ranks seventh on the New York Times bestseller list.
The parent company of the book's publisher, Hachette Book Group USA, also turns up as a vendor to the campaign. The Paul campaign paid the publisher $1,115 in April. Asked about the expense, Benton said the campaign "purchased about 60 books to give to supporters."
That practice is also legal, as long as the candidate does not derive any personal benefit from the sales.
While his campaign activity and expenditures have slowed, several relatives continue to get paid, including Laura Paul and the Texas accounting firm Paul, Phipps & Co.
Wayne Paul, who helps run Paul, Phipps, said his firm has maintained an account for all of his brother's employees "to ensure they get checks twice a month and that all reports are properly filed."
The accountant explained that the person who did Paul's books earlier in the campaign was having trouble with payroll.
"It was a matter of ensuring there were no more third parties that attempted to screw up my brother's campaign by not filing proper returns," Wayne Paul explained. "If that's impropriety, by God . . . have at it. It was done out of sheer necessity. Our firm was repaid for purposes of ensuring that everybody got properly paid."
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.