Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chicago Tribune Hits Disabled Senator For Putting Caregiver On Campaign Payroll

The Chicago Tribune is capable of selective outrage, particularly when it's aim is to force politicians out of the way it doesn't believe should hold public office. The newspaper ran a story today attacking Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) for placing an in-home caregiver he hired after he struggled to recover from a debilitating stroke he suffered in 2012 that left him wheelchair-bound for an extended period in a job on his campaign staff.  The caregiver, Mervyn Fombe-Obiko, was paid about $43,000 over a 16-month period to work on his campaign at the same time he was also paid close to $30,000 out of Kirk's personal funds to provide in-home care services for him between August 2013 and December 2014. A campaign finance expert with the Campaign Legal Center opined that the arrangement was illegal if he was paying the caregiver with campaign funds to perform personal care for Sen. Kirk.

What the Tribune omitted from its story was that Sen. Kirk had sought an opinion from the Senate Ethics Committee about a proposed dual employment role for Fombe-Obiko. That opinion understood that Fombe-Obiko would be living in Sen. Kirk's Washington home while he was in Washington and providing in-home care services for him in the evenings and mornings and during the night if Sen. Kirk required attention. There was a further understanding that Fombe-Obiko would be performing campaign-related work for him during the day time when Sen. Kirk was tending to his Senate duties and accompany him on trips back to Illinois. The ethics opinion approved the arrangement, advising Kirk to take care to ensure that Fombe-Obiko was not performing any official Senate work in either role, and that he compensate him from the appropriate account based on the work he was performing. Kirk said he also sought advice from a former FEC Director, who also indicated the arrangement was legal.

The Tribune made much of the fact that Fombe-Obiko had no prior experience working for a political campaign. People get hired all the time to work on congressional campaigns with little or no prior experience as a favor to friends and campaign supporters. Many members of Congress engage in the unseemly practice of putting family members on their campaign payrolls, whose work for their campaigns is often dubious. I don't recall the Tribune complaining about the fact that President Obama requires Secret Service agents to perform duties taking care of Bo, the Obama family's dog, as part of their official responsibilities. The Secret Service even has to arrange to fly the dog separately at the expense of taxpayers when they travel outside of Washington for vacations because they don't permit the dog to fly on Air Force One. The dog, by all appearances, is nothing more than a prop for public consumption. Obama family members seem to have little interaction with it and taxpayers are footing a much larger bill for its care than Kirk was paying his caregiver for campaign work.

To further spice up the story, the Tribune throws in the fact that Fombe-Obiko, a young African-American man, has had two recent brushes with the law. He was charged with theft for buying a camera on the Internet in 2013 and later pawning it without paying for it, a crime for which he received a suspended sentence and probation. He was also charged with fraud concerning the use of stolen gift cards at a D.C. area shopping mall shortly after he stopped working for Kirk. Sen. Kirk said he was unaware of either arrest until they were brought to his attention by the newspaper. It also appears someone had been shopping the story. Kirk told reporters he had been contacted by three other news organization about Fombe-Obiko's work for him before the Tribune ran its story. Sen. Kirk is shown in the video below when he first returned to work following a lengthy recovery period following his stroke in 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As the #1 hawk and bill originator on further Iranian sanctions, the Senator should have no trouble paying anyone out of the $687,569 he has received from the Israeli lobby. To put it in perspective Mitch McConnell is a far second at $427,772.