Member’s Representational Allowance

2017 HON. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS OFFICIAL EXPENSES OF MEMBERS. The first column is the Year-to-date, the second column is Quarterly, from the STATEMENT OF DISBURSEMENTS OF THE HOUSE, October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017, page 1369. You can click on it and scroll around it here.

Dear Group,

Ever wonder how McMorris Rodgers…or, similarly, any member of the U.S. House…can afford to keep an office and manage staff in Spokane, Walla Walla, Colville, and Washington, D.C.? Like other U.S. Representatives, McMorris Rodgers’ personal salary is $174,000. $174,000 might provide a home and support for a husband and three children in Washington, D.C., but that wouldn’t begin to cover district offices, staff, and travel. It turns out there is a whole other pool of money, the MRA, that covers those expenses. Furthermore, both the personal salary and the MRA are supposed to be separate and distinct from all that campaign money McMorris Rodgers raises from entities like the National Rifle Association, Omeros Pharmaceuticals, and benefit auctions of AR-15’s (snideness alert). So what’s this “MRA”? How much is it?

As explained in a richly referenced article, the money is allotted from federal coffers, yours and my tax money, money specified in the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA). The MRA is a prescribed sum currently budgeted between 1.2 and 1.4 million per House member (in round figures). The actual amount offered a House member depends on the Congressional District’s distance from Washington, D.C. and the local cost of office space rental. The MRA is to defray expenses of the House member’s “representational duties,” those being; the personal expenses component; the office expenses component; and the mailing expenses component.

In 2017 McMorris Rodgers’ spent $1,273,844.71 of her MRA. Her actual expenditures are close to the average allowed. (I don’t know the Congressional District 5 maximum allowed amount she had available, only what she actually spent, and that amount is close to the average MRA.) As you can see from the table above, the biggest share of the money, $1,013,209, was paid as staff salaries. So who are these people and what do they get paid? Look at the two tables below, (copied from the same federal document) for the last quarter of 2017. To figure the annual salary multiply by four (the presented numbers are last quarter of 2017 only).

Each House Member is allowed to employ up to eighteen full time staffers. I count sixteen staffers with annualized salaries over $30,000, including four with annual salaries between $95,000 and $120,000. (For reference, $30,000 is $15/hour annualized. $11/hour is the minimum wage in WA, $7.25 in ID.) There are five “shared employees.” I recognize four or five names as employees primarily located in Eastern Washington, and several that are mostly in Washington D.C. I believe office space in D.C. is not paid for out of the Members Representational Allowance.

A few observations:

  • $1.3 million annually is quite a large amount of money. Much of it (1/2?) is likely devoted to “constituent services,” i.e. helping Eastern WA people and businesses deal with issues they have with Social Security, the Veterans Administration, and other government programs and services. This is help McMorris Rodgers gets credit for, but it is help every Representative is expected to provide. It’s part of the job
  • Most of the staff in Eastern WA seems devoted to interfacing with constituents, not discussing legislation. In fact, my experience has been the local staffers are usually less informed regarding legislation than I am.
  • Whoever holds this office uses the money to help advance like-minded individuals by offering internships and work opportunities. During McMorris Rodgers seven two year terms she has fostered the careers of several. Toppling an incumbent House member changes the political landscape of the District more broadly than one might appreciate.

None of this $1.3 is supposed to be spent on political campaigns, including campaigns to acquire leadership positions in the Congress itself. The Members Representational Allowance (MRA) is meant for just what it says, the Member’s duties as a Representative of the District. By law a Representative is not supposed to benefit personally from the Members Representational Allowance, although a Representative may use personal funds to supplement Representational expenses if the expenses exceed the allowance.

Functioning as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives includes managing this $1.3 million “representational” budget for the benefit of the Member’s constituents. Lisa Brown, with five years as Chancellor of EWU Spokane, twenty years in the State House in Olympia, experience as Majority Leader of WA State Senate, and a graduate degree in economics is eminently qualified to step into that role.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. The basic information presented here comes from a series of fascinating articles from, in particular an article available here. I highly recommend further reading if you have time.

These numbers are for the last quarter of 2017, so for annual salaries multiply by four. This is publicly available information, the same pdf referenced above, pages 1369 and 1370. Use COMMAND (CMD) + to magnify the table if it is hard to read.