Elaine Luria Said All Her Staffers Make a 'Living Wage.' She Lied.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.) / Getty Images
June 16, 2022

Virginia Democratic congresswoman Elaine Luria said every staffer in her office makes a "living wage." She lied, House disbursement records show.

Luria paid staff assistant Madeleine Gagne $8,311.10 from January through March, the Democrat's latest expense disclosures show. That pay rate marks a yearly salary of just $33,244.40, which is thousands of dollars less than the $40,362 an adult with no children must earn to make a living wage in Virginia, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's living wage calculator.

Luria says she believes "that everyone deserves a living wage to raise a family in the community." But Gagne is not the first staffer in the Democrat's office who earns less than the income required to reach a living wage in the Old Dominion.

As a staff assistant, Jacob Olander—who left Luria's office in April—earned a yearly salary of $33,588. Fellow staff assistant Nolan Brown—who also left Luria's office last year—made even less, earning a yearly salary of just $31,769. When the Washington Free Beacon in March approached Luria's office with that information, Communications Director Jayce Genco did not comment on past staffers but said that every Luria aide now "makes a living wage." Just weeks later, Luria filed her statement of disbursements from January to March, which proved Genco wrong.

Luria's living wage hypocrisy could spark the ire of progressive Democrats, a voting bloc Luria will need to win as she navigates a difficult reelection campaign. Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin (R.) won Luria's Second Congressional District by 12 points last November, just one year after President Joe Biden won it by 2 points—a colossal 14-point swing. That result has Republicans confident they can beat Luria—a top Republican target since she joined Congress three years ago—in 2022.

Luria, whose office did not return a request for comment, will have to overcome Biden's dismal political standing in Virginia to overcome that challenge. As record-high gas prices and inflation sweep the nation, just 33 percent of Virginians approve of the president, compared with 55 percent who disapprove, according to Civiqs. MIT's living wage calculator reflects those issues—in March, the database placed the pre-tax salary required to earn a living wage in Virginia at $34,552. Just months later, that number rose by 17 percent.

This is not the first time Luria has flip-flopped on a wage issue. The Democrat as a candidate in 2018 came out against a $15 nationwide minimum wage, arguing that lawmakers should instead enact a wage hike "based off of different areas of the country that have different costs of living." As a small business owner, Luria said she understood the economic risk of a one-size-fits-all minimum wage, which would "cause risk to my business and other businesses," she said.

Years later, however, Luria sold her small business—and ditched her opposition to a $15 federal minimum wage. In July 2019, Luria sold her design-your-own craft shop, the Mermaid Factory. Within days, the Democrat voted for the Raise the Wage Act, a Nancy Pelosi-backed bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour regardless of local economic conditions.

Luria does not face a primary opponent this year—Navy veteran Neil Smith planned to challenge the Democrat but withdrew his candidacy. Voters will choose Luria's Republican opponent on Tuesday. State senator Jennifer Kiggans leads that race's fundraising battle, having raised $1.3 million as of June 1.