Beginning with his first House race in 1991, Pombo's younger brother Randy has been his campaign manager and treasurer. Another younger sibling, Ray, sometimes catered the congressman's tri-tip and oysters barbecue fundraisers.
In the early years, wife Annette remained in the background, managing the couple's Tracy household, raising their three children and contributing a recipe for Apple Walnut Crisscross Pie to her husband's official website.
But by March 2003, Annette, a Tracy High School valedictorian who has a degree from Loyola Marymount University, had joined the campaign. She was paid $85,275 for her work over the last two years, records show.
Randy Pombo has been paid $272,050 in the last four years, records show.
In the 2003-04 campaign cycle, Pombo paid more to his family members -- $217,000 -- than his opponent, Jerry McNerney, spent on his campaign. McNerney, a Pleasanton mathematician, spent $154,677. He lost to Pombo 61% to 39%.
Wayne Johnson, a partner in the Sacramento political consulting firm JohnsonClark Associates, which also worked for Pombo, described a family-run campaign operation.
"Randy has been there from the beginning, back when they were bootstrapping everything and Richard, who was then a Tracy city councilman, was not even expected to make it out of the primary," Johnson said. "And I know that when you called down there during the last campaign season, Annette was the one answering the phone."
Lawmakers offer a variety of reasons for putting family members on the campaign payroll.
Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.), whose wife, Kayi, receives $40,000 a year from the congressman's campaign fund to serve as his campaign manager, acknowledged being "very nervous about appearances." But he said he would "rather run the risk of a bad appearance than to have somebody steal all my money or to have some errors [in campaign finance reports] costing me big fines."
Boxer said that she had heard horror stories from colleagues about campaign workers who had absconded with funds, and she knew that she would never have that problem if she put her son, Doug, in charge.
Boxer added that she turned to her son because he was the most qualified candidate. "Who is the best person to run your operation -- that's the key thing to me," she said.
Several lawmakers said the family members they hired were professional consultants who had worked for other candidates. And, they said, they often obtained services at bargain prices.
"My wife did this for many years before she worked on our campaign," said Filner, whose wife Jane's company, Campaign Resources, was paid $154,504 in campaign funds during the last two election cycles.
Berman's campaign paid $205,500 to two firms headed by his brother Michael, a longtime campaign consultant, over the four-year period. The congressman said he thought the payments included debts he carried over from his 1998 and 2002 campaigns.
"The good news for me is that one of the most talented campaign strategists happens to be my brother," Berman said.
Berman, a former member of the House ethics committee, said that according to the chamber's rules, "you are not supposed to use your campaign funds for personal expenses or matters unrelated to politics. The test is what kind of work they are performing. I'm getting one of the most talented campaign strategists at a pretty good price. Out on the commercial marketplace, my brother makes a lot more money."
Lofgren's campaign paid her husband's company, Collins Day, $251,853 during the four-year period for fundraising, filing campaign finance reports and other political activities.
Lofgren noted that Collins Day also worked for other politicians.
"It's really important that [campaign finance reports] be done right," Lofgren said. She joked that when she was a county supervisor, her husband did the work as a volunteer -- "and it was always late." Now that she pays his company, she said, "it gets done."
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) said his wife, Janice, worked as an unpaid volunteer for his campaign for 18 years before she began receiving $2,600 a month last year for tasks such as keeping the campaign books. He said her compensation was far less than what she made before giving up her job as an escrow officer to work on the campaign. She has been paid a total of $28,636, records show.
"She's always been an independent woman," Gallegly said. "So it was at my suggestion that she get some kind of compensation so she wouldn't have to come to me every time she wanted to buy something for one of the grandkids. If you average it over 18 years, she's made about $140 a month."
A spokesman for McKeon said the congressman's wife, Patricia, was a "valuable part of the congressman's campaign team" who ran the campaign office, filed campaign finance reports and oversaw all of the congressman's fundraising. Records show she was paid $152,362 over four years by McKeon's campaign committee.