New Jersey’s House members get more than $1 million a year to fund their congressional offices in addition to their $174,000 salaries. We’re here to tell you how they spent it.
NJ Advance Media took a year’s worth of disclosure reports — lawmakers file their spending quarterly with the Chief Administrative Officer of the House, which posts it online for all to see — to see what the state’s delegation spent its taxpayer money on.
The 12 lawmakers spent $16.8 million in 2021, the last full year expenses were available. Most of it, $13.6 million or 81%, went to pay their staff members. The rest went for expenses like travel, office supplies, rental cars, Amtrak and airline fares, meals and water.
Officially known as the Members’ Representational Allowance, lawmakers receive more than $1 million to spend each year. The exact amount varies from representative to representative and is based on a formula that takes into account the distances between their districts and Washington, D.C., the number of postal addresses in their districts, and the costs of renting office space.
Any unspent funds can be held over for two additional years before being returned to the U.S. Treasury, which is why every member of New Jersey’s House delegation spent more than $1 million last year.
Steve Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, called the lawmakers’ spending “a window into their fiscal souls.”
“It’s important to know how they’re spending the money because they have to be good stewards,” Ellis said. “If they can’t manage their office funds in a responsible manner, how can they manage the federal budget in a responsible manner?”
Here’s the list of each New Jersey representatives, with one expenditure for each that called out for attention:
Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st Dist.
No one else in the delegation came close to the $65,208 Norcross spent on office equipment. That’s because he opened up a new district office in the city of Camden.
“We collect data, where calls, contacts, emails all come from, and we found out the higher call volume and contacts were coming from the city,” Norcross said. “So we put a satellite office down there.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd Dist.
Van Drew spent $83,004 on a staff member assigned to handle the needs of the large number of veterans living in his South Jersey district.
“There are a lot of veterans who come to our office seeking assistance with issues they’re experiencing,” spokeswoman Ashley Brown said. “The congressman wants to make sure that they are getting the services they need in an efficient manner, so he decided to have a staff member who can dedicate their time to serving our district’s veterans.”
Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd Dist.
Kim’s staff includes a director of grants, who is paid $33,950 to help connect organizations and small businesses in the district connect with federal funding and providing assistance with filling out applications.
The congressman said he writes letters of recommendation for applications and joins his director of grants on webinars to teach groups about federal grants they can apply for.
“There’s so much need in the district for resources, whether that’s fire departments or schools or nonprofits, and we’re always talking about how, in New Jersey, we only get back 83 cents for every dollar we put into the federal government,” Kim said. “I wanted to be more aggressive….We’ve been able to get significant amounts of resources back for our community.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th Dist.
Smith, with four congressional offices, spent more on office supplies than anyone else in the delegation: $19,678. Spokesman Michael Finan said the budget included a printer and work laptops for staff members as well as supplies like paper, ink cartridges and toner.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist.
Gottheimer, a leader in the so-far unsuccessful effort to restore the full federal deduction for state and local taxes that Republicans capped in their 2017 tax law, has gone after those states who get billions of dollars more in services than they pay in federal taxes, calling them “moochers.”
So no wonder that Gottheimer spent $34,777 for a “director of return on investment” for a state that sends billions of dollars more to Washington than it gets back in services.
“Our director of return on investment is a key position — it’s our anti-moocher position — who works closely with our mayors, councils, county and state officials, first responders, and local nonprofits to identify federal grant opportunities, answers questions about applications, advocates for them, and helps claw our federal tax dollars back to North Jersey,” Gottheimer said.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th Dist.
Pallone spent $44,909 on mailings to his district, tops among New Jersey representatives.
“Constituent mail is an important part of helping constituents get what they deserve from the federal government,” Pallone said. “We see an influx of residents come in for help when we use constituent mail to keep everyone updated. This Congress alone, my office has helped return over $16 million to constituents who were owed.”
Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-7th Dist.
The entire delegation spent $11,403 on equipment warranties in 2021. Malinowski alone spent $8,522, or 75% of the total.
Malinowski spokeswoman Naree Ketudat said the congressman’s staff does its own printing rather than farm it out to a vendor and bought new equipment to handle the load. These were the warranties for that equipment.
Overall, Malinowski spent $1.2 million to run his offices, less than any of his New Jersey colleagues.
Rep. Albio Sires, D-8th Dist.
The retiring lawmaker spent more than anyone else in the delegation in 2021, $1.5 million. The lion’s share of that, $1.3 million, went for salaries. That also was more than the other lawmakers.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist.
The highest-paid staff member in any New Jersey congressional office is Pascrell’s chief of staff, Ben Rich, who even makes more than the congressman does.
While salaries for members of Congress are capped at $174,000, Rich was paid $179,900 in 2021 The maximum pay for staffers was raised to $199,300 last year and $203,700 this year.
Rich has worked for Pascrell for more than two decades and is one of the longest tenured staff members working for any New Jersey member of Congress.
“Staff salaries are an investment in expertise and competence for our districts and reflect our staff members’ absolute ability to get those tough jobs done,” Pascrell spokesman Mark Greenbaum said.
Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-10th Dist.
The entire delegation spent $49,060 to rent cars in 2021. Payne accounted for $36,468 of that.
Payne spokesman Patrick Wright said it was because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a diabetic, Congressman Payne, Jr. has been a high risk to catch COVID-19 since the pandemic began,” Wright said. “While the congressman prefers to take the train, he caught COVID-19 after his first train trip during the pandemic and decided to switch to rental cars to commute between Washington, D.C., and his district as a health precaution. In addition, the Congressman has used those vehicles to get to events in the district.”
Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-11th Dist.
A member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Navy pilot, Sherrill spent $60,704 to hire a veterans and military liaison.
Spokeswoman Charlotte Laracy ticked off the liaison’s portfolio: veterans’ disability, pension, home loan, and education benefits; requests for copies of military separation documents; and retirees’ health care and pensions.
Sherrill has the Picatinny Arsenal in her district, and the liaison works with the facility, as well as handles the yearly nominations to the service academies, including the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where the congresswoman graduated from.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th Dist.
Watson Coleman has a designated staff member assigned to handle immigration cases, a hot-button issue in Washington. She has been very visible in the effort to allow the so-called dreamers, those brought to the U.S. as children, to remain legally in the country they grew up in.
Spokesman Mike Shanahan said the office had such a large number of immigration cases that having one person specializing in the issue served to “increase efficiency in handling the caseload.”
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