November 13 2004, 6:00 AM
Colorado Congressman Scott McInnis announced last year he would not seek re-election. After the announcement, he paid his wife with campaign funds to serve as his campaign manager. Democrats and Project Common Cause say it may be illegal. Even if legal, they say, it is unorthodox and inappropriate.
Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a public policy lobbying group, said McInnis crossed the line by paying his wife as campaign manager after he announced last year he would retire. "It is not atypical to do mop-up, but after he had already announced his retirement, that's a lot of mop-up," Maysmith said.It's true there are loose ends to tie up at the end of an election campaign. But how many? For how long? Campaign finance laws aren't clear. What is clear is that money remaining in a campaign fund at the end of a campaign may not be kept by the candidate. It can be given away, to other candidates, or to charity. It can be refunded to donors. McInnis's campaign manager said the FEC approved the plan. Others say it has the appearance of a slush fund. There's not a huge amount at issue. There was over $1 million remaining in McInnis's coffers at the time he announced his retirement. His wife's salary was a tiny portion of that. But, look at it this way: In 2001, Mrs. McInnis's salary was $16,000. This year it was $37,800 a year. That's quite a hefty raise, especially with little or no work to do this past year. It may have been legal, but does it pass the smell test?