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Congress: The $$$ is all in the family

March 22, 2012: 10:43 AM ET

White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

The 11% of Americans who still approve of Congress are sure to be disappointed by a new report that shows nepotism is running wild in the halls of the Capitol.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group, took a look at the 435-member House of Representatives and found 248 of them were engaged in activities that warranted inclusion in their report on how lawmakers are using their positions to benefit their families.

Among the findings:

- 82 members paid family members through their congressional offices, campaigns or political action committees.

- 44 representatives have family employed as lobbyists or in governmental affairs.

- 14 collected interest on personal loans made to their own campaigns.

The report runs 343 pages, and details all kinds of activities. Ron Paul, the only member of the House who is also a presidential candidate, is said to have paid the salaries of his daughter, grandson, daughter's mother-in-law, granddaughter,  grandson-in-law and another relative through his campaign committee.

Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Florida, is listed as having paid his girlfriend $622,574 between 2007 and 2010 through his congressional office. She draws a salary as his deputy district director, and her most recent annual salary was $166,000.

Now, most if not all of these activities are perfectly legal. But CREW's point is that they raise important ethical questions.

"Payments to close family members raise questions of self-dealing," the report said. "At the very least, payments to family members should be more transparent."

One of the more interesting practices examined is the charging of interest on personal loans that members make to their own campaigns. Members are allowed to do this so long as they charge a "commercially reasonable" interest rate.

Some appear to be pushing the boundaries of this definition. Democrat Grace Napolitano of California once charged her campaign a rate of 18% -- or just about triple the bank prime rate at the time, according to the report.

CREW argues this practice needs more oversight as campaigns frequently "make simple mathematical and reporting mistakes," interest is paid in a haphazard manner and loans sometimes remain outstanding for years.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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