By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS — Salary reports show embattled Congressman Todd Akin nearly doubled the fourth-quarter pay of his staff before leaving office in January.
Among U.S. representatives, the House member from Wildwood gave his Capitol Hill workers the second-highest number of bonuses, according to data on LegiStorm.
Missouri Watchdog could not reach his former communications director, Steve Taylor, for comment.
Taylor described the bonuses to KMOV on Monday as a severance package for those staffers losing jobs after incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill defeated Akin in the November election for the Missouri U.S. Senate seat.
Taylor said Akin’s workers were flooded with hateful messages after his comments about “legitimate rape” in August.
Members of Congress are given great latitude in how they spend their expenses allowances, and any unused money is returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for Common Cause, said this gives federal lawmakers incentive to dole out that taxpayer money.
“House office accounts are either use it or lose it at the end of the year, so many members do reward staff when they can,” she told Missouri Watchdog.
Former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan also ranked high on the list. The St. Louis Democrat, who lost his re-election bid in 2012, boosted staff payments by about 45 percent in the fourth quarter, ranking him 26th among the 433 members of the House.
Daimon Eklund of LegiStorm said nine of the top 10 bonus spenders were Republicans, reversing previous trends.
The numbers do not include the staffers of senators. Comparable figures can’t be gleaned because of differences in how payroll numbers are reported, according to LegiStorm.
The biggest bonus provider was a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, who didn’t seek re-election in November. Ackerman handed out $401,072 between October and December.
Post-election bonuses dropped to the lowest level in a decade, overall. The average GOP staffer got a 16.4 percent fourth-quarter increase, compared to 15.1 percent for Democratic workers. The combined average of 15.7 percent was the lowest post-election bump in at least a decade, Eklund said.
He said such bonuses have long been a tradition in Congress.
“Members justify bonuses by saying that congressional staff are undercompensated compared to their peers in the private sector and executive branch, especially considering the long hours that many staffers keep,” Eklund said.
LegiStorm’s studies found that most of the highest bonuses are handed out by departing members of Congress who no longer have to answer to their constituents on spending practices, and whose staffers need to find other jobs.
Eklund said the party with the most losses tends to provide bigger bonuses, for that reason.