WASHINGTON — A new kind of "loophole nepotism" has come to Capitol Hill since passage of a law 20 years ago that banned House and Senate members from hiring their relatives.
At least 74 members' relatives worked on the congressional payroll in the last 18 months, apparently because some members of Congress have learned how to skirt the 1967 anti-nepotism statute.
To bypass the restriction, members or their relatives have gone to other lawmakers, the House doorkeeper or the postmaster to secure coveted jobs.
House and Senate members defend the qualifications of many congressionally employed family members and often deny taking a hands-on role in the hirings.
Questions about a substantial number of those hired--23 in a United Press International survey--may be diminished because they have held insignificant, low-paying summer internships.
But critics complain that blood-line favoritism has led to the hiring of poorly suited staffers or at least deprived taxpayers of the best available talent.
For example, they cite Joan Teague Rose, wife of Rep. Charlie Rose (D-N.C.), a $41,572 staff assistant on the Agriculture subcommittee chaired by her husband. Congressional sources alleged that Joan Rose often is absent from the offices of the tobacco and peanut panel and not earning her pay.
One source said she sometimes stops by the committee office in jogging clothes and hardly shows up enough "to get her telephone messages."
Heidi Pender, the subcommittee counsel, termed the allegations unfounded "gossip and innuendo." She stressed that Joan Rose's employment did not violate the anti-nepotism statute because she joined Rose's subcommittee a few months before their marriage.
Except when on official travel, she said, Rose works her full shift in the office every day "and whatever other hours are required as well," handling such matters as animal welfare and pesticide restrictions on imported tobacco. Joan Rose was not available for comment.
The anti-nepotism law is relatively toothless and violators are simply banned from collecting further paychecks. Congressional ethics panels never have alleged a violation. The statute exempts those employed before its passage and those in their positions before becoming related through marriage.
But many other relatives appear to have benefited from political exchanges or personal favors:
--The son and a nephew of Rep. Joseph D. Early (D-Mass.) have served as staff assistants to Rep. Bob Traxler (D-Mich.), a colleague of Early's on the House Appropriations Committee.
--The stepson of Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) works on the House Public Works Committee chaired by Rep. James J. Howard (D-N.J.), and Howard's daughter is an aide to the Interior Committee chaired by Udall.
--Rep. Marvin Leath (D-Tex.), said he consulted his group of "good ole boys" in Congress last summer and found his son, Thomas, a paid internship in the office of his Southern congressional friend, Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr. (D-Ark.).
These lawmakers or their aides stressed that such cases are legal.
Although House employees' relationships to members must be listed in monthly payroll reports, sources say the hiring of some family members is kept secret--particularly relatives with different surnames than the politician.
At least five family members' relationships did not appear in records filed with the House clerk. The secretary of the Senate requires no such reporting.
Through the House Democratic Personnel Committee, members also may recommend candidates for about 400 patronage jobs in the House doorkeeper's office, the postmaster's office, the clerk's office and sergeant-at-arms office.