SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — It’s no secret, the American taxpayer foots the bill for every dime Congress spends in Washington, D.C. That includes paying congressmen and their staffs a salary.
But what most people do not realize is that most members of Congress also hand out bonuses to their staff members — payments that, in many cases, top $10,000 a piece.
Staffers are the people that U.S. senators and representatives hire to run their offices.
All six congressmen who serve Louisiana in the House of Representatives hand out thousands of dollars in bonuses to their staffs each year, according to Keturah Hetrick, a congressional researcher with the online government data firm LegiStorm.
And most taxpayers back in the Pelican State have no idea.
"No one outside of D.C. really pays much attention at all to this issue,” Hetrick said.
Here’s how those staff bonuses work:
— Every member of the House runs their own office, getting a taxpayer-funded budget of about $1.4 million a year to spend on rent, office supplies, travel expenses and staff salaries.
— At the end of the year, unspent cash is supposed to be given back to the Treasury Department. But the majority of representatives work their budgets so there’s enough taxpayer money left over to pay bonuses.
— Then members of Congress essentially bury those payments in a mountain of congressional spending records.
“It’s true that it’s publicly available,” said Hetrick. “But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy for the public to analyze or understand.”
So what’s the taxpayer tab on this bonus pay when it comes to Louisiana’s six members of Congress?
More than three-quarters of a million dollars ($778,880), if you add up all the estimated bonuses that members of Congress from the Pelican State gave their staffers the past two years, according to spending reports called statement of disbursements.
The most generous congressman from Louisiana is Cedric Richmond, whose bonus payments topped $209,548 in 2017 and 2018 combined.
The staff bonuses paid by Congressmen Garret Graves ($140,901), Ralph Abraham ($135,412) and Clay Higgins ($111,973) all exceeded six figures during that same period.
Congressmen Mike Johnson ($90,694) and Steve Scalise ($88,332) both gave total staff bonuses that fell a little under that total the past two years.
Of the six Louisiana congressmen, only Johnson and Abraham would talk about using taxpayer money to fund bonuses.
Both said their staffers work hard and offer a unique skill set that’s in high demand on Capitol Hill in Washington.
The extra cash is how they keep their staffers from seeking jobs elsewhere, they added.
“These are people that work 18-, 20-hour days,” Johnson said. "They’re really grossly underpaid for what they do. Virtually every member of the staff could make a whole lot more money in the private sector.”
“You’ve got great intellect up there and you’ve got a great knowledge base,” Abraham said, referring to his staff members working in D.C.. "But because we’re limited, with that pot of money that we can only use, then we cannot pay those staffers what they can get out those doors.”
The amount of money that Louisiana congressmen give their individual staff members varies widely.
Congressional spending records for the past two years show the smallest bonus paid was $265 and the largest was $20,436.
However, the average bonus was around $4,853 in 2018 and about $4,588 in 2017.
While our congressmen argue that their staffers earn that extra pay, none of those members nor their staffers would confirm the total amount of bonuses paid, despite repeated requests for comment, by phone and email.