Congressional office merry-go-round

Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-San Diego) (C) speaks as he is flanked by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-San Diego) (L) and Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego) during the welcoming ceremony of the U.S. Navy's fastest large ship, the Sea Fighter, in San Diego, California, August 1, 2005/Mike Blake

Given the (supposed) gravitas of Congress, one would imagine top staffers would be grizzled veterans well-versed in the affairs of state.

One would be wrong.

Many congressional staffers are young, not attached to geography as they represent congressional offices far removed from their native lands. And many in the Republican brand play a game of office musical chairs where no chairs go unfilled although they swap around from time to time.

Take, for example, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-49th District) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-50th District).

Or rather consider the unusual case of Issa’s most notorious spokesman, Kurt Bardella, who has landed on his feet with frequent CNN appearances and something he calls Endeavor Strategies, described as “entertainers as well as politicians…relying on a new frontier of public relations and communications.”

Posted on Bardella’s site is this self-description: “Kurt Bardella, President of Endeavor Strategies, founded the firm following a long career in the U.S. Congress. Kurt has provided strategic counsel and media messaging guidance throughout his tenured service as Senior Advisor, Spokesman and Deputy Communications Director, for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Majority) and its Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Director of Communications for Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and Press Secretary for Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).”

True. Sorta.

As Bardella started with dear old Bilbray — remember him — he has moved from Republican to Republican office. More notoriously, he was the Bretibart spokesman, a detail he leaves off his official bio, and had a rough time at each stop.

In March 2011, Issa fired Bardella after concluding his spokesman had secretly and regularly shared e-mail exchanges he had with journalists with a reporter for The New York Times writing a book about Washington’s political culture, according to The New York Times.

Darrell Issa in 2011 as he fired spokesman Kurt Bardella for sharing correspondence with reporters with New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich.

“It has become clear that the committee’s deputy communications director, Kurt Bardella, did share reporter e-mail correspondence with New York Times journalist Mark Leibovich for a book project,” Issa said. “Though limited, these actions were highly inappropriate, a basic breach of trust with the reporters it was his job to assist, and inconsistent with established communications office policies. As a consequence, his employment has been terminated.”

Almost exactly five years later in March last year, Bardella went from hero to zero with Breitbart, you know, Steve Bannon’s nest of alternative facts.

Breitbart was a client of Bardella and his communications shop, Endeavor Strategies, according to Politico. His departure comes after a tumultuous three days that which saw Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields accuse Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of strong-arming her as she tried to ask Trump a question following a news conference Tuesday night.

Following the incident, Breitbart sent out statements saying it was 100 percent behind its reporter and calling on Lewandowski to apologize, while also publishing posts that seemed to question Fields’ account of what happened.

Breaitbart was a client of Kurt Bardella (pictured in 2011) and his communications shop, Endeavor Strategies.

“I resigned,” said Bardella, who was formerly a long-time aide to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “I reached the point where I couldn’t do 100 percent of my ability to represent them both for them and me, and when you reach that point, it is time to move on.”

Issa these days has help from the congressional bargain bin. Calvin C. Moore is his current spokesman. Moore, according to Inside Gov, appears to have a salary of $8,400 per quarter.

Darrell Issa press spokesman Calvin Moore/Linkedin

Moore graduated from George Washington University around 2011 and worked his way up from intern at the ultra-right wing Club for Growth to research assistant at the National Republican Congressional committee,  then, he worked for a right-wing Republican public relations firm, and the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity before joining Team Issa on August 2016.

Hunter he of the no in-person town hall meetings and over $60,000 in campaign funds spent on personal expenses, employs Joe Kasper as his spokesman and chief aide. (Note: Kasper resigned on Sept. 7, amid the Department of Justice investigation of Hunter for criminal misuse of campaign funds for personal expenses,saying he had procured a Department of Defense job.)

Kasper earned an estimated annual salary of $145,000 as a Chief of Staff through the most recent House pay period, according to Inside Gov. He started with 14-term Duncan Hunter Sr. and was passed down father to son along with the 52nd-50th Congressional District as a sort of family office inheritance.

An aviation mechanic in the Air Force, Kasper graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2003, then hit the Republican staffer gravy train. He started as an intern with Rep, Rob Simmons (R-Conn).

Duncan Hinter chief aide Joe Kasper enjoys a pedicure/Facebook

Then, a serendipitous opportunity arose when the now-retired Hunter offered him an entry-level position soon after Kasper arrived on the Hill, according to Roll Call. “His conservative outlook aligned with Hunter’s,” Roll Call said, “and he was enthusiastic about the chance to work on military issues with a senior member of the  Armed Services Committee.”

Kasper quickly moved up the ranks to director of communications, according to Roll Call, where he had to handle the toughest controversy in his career thus far — the bribery scandal surrounding the elder Hunter’s California and Armed Services colleague, Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-50th District). It was Kasper’s first real test at trying to manage the national media.

Duncan Hunter Sr. and Duncan Hunter Jr. congressional aide Joe Kasper, apparently really, really, really likes lobster/Facebook

“I felt like a kid jumping in water for the first time,” Kasper said. “It did have an impact on my initial perception of the media because there were some people in the press going to unusual lengths to misrepresent a personal friendship. It also kind of picks up on that point about being true to yourself.”

Coincidentally, Cunningham went to prison for taking bribes in the infamous Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Hunter Sr. was caught up the events, but never charged. Hunter Jr. now has his own ethics scandal unraveling as at least $60,000 from defense contractors in his campaign treasury went for personal expenses.

Cunningham was able to move to Rancho Santa Fe before he was busted and sentenced in March 2006 to eight years and four months in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors in return for smoothing the way for government contracts.

Judge Larry Alan Burns of Federal District Court said the former congressman’s conduct, which prosecutors said included keeping a “bribe menu” with the prices of influence, undermined faith in government and wasted tax dollars. In addition to some cash payments, Mr. Cunningham bargained for gifts like a sport utility vehicle, a Tiffany statue, Bijar rugs and candelabras.

Burns said Cunningham, an eight-term Republican from Rancho Santa Fe who represented the northern suburbs of San Diego, could have retired to business long ago if he wanted to make copious money but instead engaged in bid rigging and badgering officials and other witnesses to help cover his tracks.

Cunningham was ordered to pay $1,804,031.50 in restitution for back taxes, penalties and interest owed to the government and was ordered to forfeit an additional $1,851,508, based on cash he received in his crimes.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan citizens’ watchdog group, listed the senior Hunter as one of the most corrupt members of Congress in 2007, detailing 23 pages of purported corruption:

The CREW report summarized its complaints: “Rep. Hunter’s ethical issues stem from his connection to a number of people at the center of the largest military corruption scandal of the decade — connections that have been investigated by the FBI4 — and his earmarks for projects that benefit his defense industry political donors, but that the military does not want.”

In addition to ethical issues surrounding his official work, CREW noted, “Rep.Hunter purchased his home in a questionable land deal, escaped paying full property taxes for many years on the home and gave conflicting reports of the property’s true value. Rep. Hunter also used the power of his office to financially benefit his brother and his presidential campaign has violated federal election law.”

CREW further criticized Hunter for his close relationship with Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who was convicted of bribery and described  Hunter as his “mentor” as well as Hunter’s relationships with other key players in the Cunningham scandal.

Duncan Hunter Jr. was the second congressman to endorse The Donald.

Like father like son, ah the cliche, CREW filed complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Federal Election Commission, after Hunter’s campaign committee acknowledged spending thousands of dollars not related to campaign activity.

A quarterly report released by the OCE Feb. 8 said the Ethics Committee was required to release its referral of the Hunter matter or announce an investigation of Hunter by Jan. 29. However, the Ethics Committee hasn’t yet held an organizational meeting or taken any action in the 115th Congress. Only nine of its required 10 members—five Republicans and four Democrats—have been named by House leaders.

The OCE is an independent watchdog office created in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. It screens ethics cases and refers serious matters to the Ethics Committee. The office has a staff of professional investigators overseen by a board composed of ex-lawmakers and other ethics experts.

Hunter’s campaign spending has come under scrutiny by the Office of Congressional Ethics since the FEC first raised questions last April. He has reimbursed his campaign for more than $60,000 his office identified as personal, mistaken or insufficiently documented. None of the tobacco expenses have been reimbursed.

Federal law does not allow the expenditure of campaign contributions for personal benefit, to protect against undue influence by donors. Hunter’s campaign treasury is largely funded by defense contractors, transportation companies and others whose business is affected by Congressional committees upon which Hunter serves.

Chain, chain chain: Meet the new House staff, same as the old House staff

California Congressional District 49 and District 50 aside, considering the overall congressional staffing merry-go-round, Government Executive offered this appraisal in 2014:

“As of 2014, the U.S. House employed 9,175 individuals (along with 435 Members), the letter noted. “That is fewer than the 9,341 individuals the U.S. House employed in 1983 – when the demands on Congress were far less.” The Senate has increased its staffing levels from 3,913 to 5,758 during this time period, though almost all of that increase came between 1980 and 1994, when the Senate had 5,476 staff positions.”

A poll from the Congressional Management Foundation and the Society For Human Resource Management found that 46% of staffers wanted to change jobs within a year because of a “desire to earn more money.” Pay rates are 20-30% lower than equivalent private sector jobs, with most Capitol Hill workers making around $30,000 annually.

Just 48% of the staffers say they had adequate time for a personal life. That said, 80% of staffers expressed overall satisfaction with their work for Congress — with 94% saying that they stay on the job because “they believe what they’re doing is meaningful.” Staffers report satisfaction ratings that are generally considered much higher than private-sector jobs.

But the result of such a hectic lifestyle is ultimately high turnover. Former staffer Carter Moore said that some offices he worked for approached a 50-60% annual turnover rate.

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