A law firm run by the sister of Democratic representative William Lacy Clay Jr. (Mo.) has now banked more than $1 million from the congressman's campaign since 2002, filings show.
The payments to the firm are often the largest expenditures from the committee. The campaign cash was disbursed to an address in Maryland and in part has gone toward community organizing services despite Clay's district being located more than 800 miles away and the longtime representative having not faced any serious challenges to his seat since entering Congress.
Payments from campaigns to family members have gotten other politicians in hot water. Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.), for example, was hit with an FEC complaint over hundreds of thousands of dollars that her campaign paid to her daughter for running a mailer operation. More than a dozen politicians from both political parties have raised concerns of nepotism by placing family members on campaign payrolls in recent years, which is permitted but carries stipulations such as providing a "bona fide service" and paying fair market value.
Clay, who was elected in 2001 to a seat previously held for more than 30 years by his father, Bill Clay, began pushing money to family members shortly after taking office. Clay Sr. established the William L. Clay Scholarship and Research Fund in the 1980s to address concerns of rising tuition costs. The fund is one entity that has received cash from the campaign. Between 2002 and 2016, more than $30,000 in donations were made to the congressman's father's fund.
However, the payments to his sister's firm, the Law Office of Michelle C. Clay, LLC, have been among the largest committee expenses in recent years. The firm was first placed on the campaign's payroll in 2002—the year the congressman took office—and has now received over $1 million since that time.
So far this year, the law firm has been paid $90,000 by Clay's campaign committee for fundraising, compliance, legal work, and community organizing and outreach, filings show. The payments account for more than half of the campaign's $175,000 in operating expenditures for the 2020 cycle and follow the more than $950,000 in payments the firm had collected between 2002 and the 2018 election cycle. Since 2010, Michelle Clay's firm has been the highest paid vendor in all but the 2012 cycle, when it received the second most money from the campaign.
The law office, which lists its address in Silver Spring, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., appears to be a residential home. The law office also does not have a website and practically no information is available online about it.
While Clay's sister was paid for activities like fundraising, the committee was also paying another firm for the same services over the years. For the current 2020 election cycle, the committee has given $27,000 to Fraioli & Associates, a D.C.-based campaign consulting group, for fundraising. More than $200 was disbursed to the group for travel and food reimbursements.
Clay's campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the payments from his campaign to his sister's law firm by press time.