“Say It Ain’t So, Jim!”: Jim Webb’s Unethical Family Stipends

Webb and staff. Well, wife. Well, never mind.

Webb and staff. Well, wife. Well, never mind.

Oh, great. I have personal experience with the character of one national political figure who impresses me with his honesty, courage and integrity; I support his political career and come to his defense when he is unfairly maligned, and now this. 

Time to put an ad in Craig’s List seeking a new hero.

According to a report in the Business Insider, Webb, a potential challenger to Hillary Clinton’s claim on the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination as well as a former U.S. Senator, head of he Veterans Administration, best-selling novelist and decorated Vietnam veteran, has been playing the old, unethical Washington game of shoveling campaign contributions to his family. Let me give you some of the depressing highlights:

  • Webb’s  Born Fighting PAC is dedicated to supporting “candidates and entities” who support economic fairness, “reorienting our national security posture,” and developing greater accountability in government.
  • Federal Election Commission reports show that the committee, which received nearly $1 million in donations, gave a relatively small portion of that money to political candidates and groups. At the same time, nearly 10% of the contributions received by the PAC went to Webb’s family.
  • Records show that Webb’s  Born Fighting PAC has received $961,515.34 in contributions from individuals, politicians, progressive groups, businesses, unions, and Democratic Party organizations since it launched at the end of 2006. Of this money, $91,999.91 went to Webb’s daughter, Amy Webb Hogan, and wife, Hong Le Webb.
  • Since Webb declared his interest in the 2016 race, he has been identified as one of the main potential rivals for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Webb, who entered the Senate in 2006, announced he wouldn’t run for reelection at the beginning of 2011.
  • The Born Fighting PAC continued to contribute to Webb’s family long after it had stopped giving to funds to candidates and the groups it was established to support. Campaign finance reports show the committee has not given any money to political candidates or groups since the end of 2010.
  • The PAC has continued to take donations. Over $100,000 from the final balance in Webb’s Senate campaign account, now closed, was transferred to the committee after he left office at the start of last year.
  • Most of the money Webb’s wife and daughter received from the committee came after it had stopped giving money to politicians and political groups.
  • Webb Hogan began receiving money from her father’s PAC in 2009, when she earned $2,000 for “website consulting services.” In each year from 2010 through 2012 she received $12,000 for the same purpose. Last year, Webb Hogan was paid $14,500 from the committee. Of the money Webb Hogan was paid last year, the reports said $13,500 was for “administrative consulting services” and $1,000 was for “website services reimbursement.”
  • Based on archived versions of the Born Fighting PAC site, it was not updated at all during this period apart from a two-sentence note thanking donors for their “past support.”
  • Hong Le Webb was first paid by the Born Fighting PAC in 2008 when she received $253.37 for travel expenses. She did not receive any money from the committee again until this year, when, as of last month, she received $14,834.34. Most of the money that the committee paid to Hong Le Webb in 2014 — $13,800 — was listed in the reports as compensation for “website services.”
  • Along with the members of Webb’s family, the committee has hired professional web designers to work on the site. This includes work on the site done in the same period Webb’s PAC paid his family members for their “website services.”
  • Archived versions of the Born Fighting PAC website indicate it was updated just once this year. Hong Le Webb nevertheless received $13,800 for “website services” in addition to the money that was paid to L.A. Design Studio.
  • The latest Federal Election Commission report, which covers the period up to Nov. 24, shows the Born Fighting PAC has only $69,391.84 of the nearly $1 million it received left on hand. The committee spent about $900,000 from 2006 through last month. Of this, the records show that, over the years, just $200,027.04 of the money donated to the PAC went to political candidates and groups.In other words, Webb’s committee used only about 20% of the money it spent to support its stated mission.
  • One Democratic operative who spoke to Business Insider said leadership PACs “generally contribute 40% to 60% of the money they receive” to other candidates and groups. Born Fighting PAC seems to have had relatively high overhead even though the records show the committee did not have office space and barely employed paid staffers apart from Webb’s wife and daughter.

Do you need more? I don’t. I have investigated a lot of these family pay-off arrangements among national and state politicians. They are corrupt, that’s all. They may be legal, but they are corrupt.

As the young baseball fan reputedly implored disgraced Chicago White Sox star Shoeless Joe Jackson when it was revealed that he took a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series, “Say it ain’t so!”

But Jim isn’t saying it’s not so. In a statement on his behalf, his spokesperson, Ashleigh Owens, essentially fell back on the “It’s legal” rationalization, adding deflection and boilerplate to avoid the obvious conclusions. My comments are in bold:

“This story as written misrepresents reasonable compensation for real and provable work done. Adding up numbers across several years for a sensational headline doesn’t tell the story. We’re happy to be fully transparent on this for journalists interested in the whole story.”

Blame the media.

“Since its inception, the Born Fighting PAC has supported Senator Webb’s vision of leadership, both with respect to issues he continues to advance and also to support candidates. The PAC has compensated professionals who perform the necessary compliance and administrative functions of the PAC. Amy Webb has been involved in the administration, management and design of Jim Webb’s websites for many years, including the management of JamesWebb.com since 2001. She has provided the same services to the Born Fighting PAC since 2009, including the handling of FEC compliance matters since 2013.”

Ducking the issue. Nothing has been done on the page that could possibly justify these expenditures, and the PAC isn’t doing what it was supposed to do. These are the earmarks of a scam.

“The activities of the PAC increased in 2014 when Jim Webb decided to re-enter the political discussions of our country. This included extensive revamping of Jameswebb.com and the creation of the Webb2016 Exploratory Committee website. It also involved Jim’s increased personal involvement, as in his August 2014 visit to Iowa, where he campaigned for several candidates, and in numerous meetings regarding America’s political landscape.”

Deflection. Why is Webb’s family being paid from the PAC for imaginary work?

“Hong Le Webb, an attorney, was compensated for her activities relating to various aspects of multiple website designs from the period February through September 2014, including vetting design consultants, negotiating contracts and content management.”

Tapdancing. What legitimate legal work is required regarding “aspects” of web design?

“The payments were well within the law, were scrutinized regularly by outside legal counsel, and were much lower than usual amounts of compensation for such services.”
The smoking guns: “No laws were broken” and “It’s not a big deal.” Yes, but was it ethical?

No family members should be paid members on Congressional or campaign staffs, precisely because of the inherent abuses it encourages. I really thought Jim Webb, who was a class mate of mine in law school and whom I know personally, was above this kind of thing. Guess not.

7 thoughts on ““Say It Ain’t So, Jim!”: Jim Webb’s Unethical Family Stipends

  1. Never liked him, and glad to see him fall. Hey, Jim, George Bush is still living in Texas if you’re brave enough to hop a plane and face him, neither of you holding public office, just a personal dispute to be settled man to man.

  2. Anyone thinking that the Internet Archive provides an accurate history of the changes done to a website has not acquainted themselves with the basic facts of how it operates.

    From the FAQ: “our automated systems crawl the web every few months or so”

    Case in point: https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://ethicsalarms.com
    We all know this site changes daily, yet the archive count for the last 5 years is 117 changes.

    If the Business Insider is hanging their hat on the number of times the Internet Archive scanned one of Webb’s obscure sites, they are more than misinformed. Only popular sites, like in the top 1,000,000 sites, will be archived more frequently.

  3. “As the young baseball fan reputedly implored disgraced Chicago White Sox star Shoeless Joe Jackson when it was revealed that he took a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series, “Say it ain’t so!””

    Jack,
    It’s a good line, but you used it twice within the span of three paragraphs. ;lol

    • See, sometimes it’s good to have a lurking ill-wisher just waiting for you to trip up: That was a cut and paste mistake, where I decided to move the paragraph down from the intro, and then forgot to delete the original. As you will note, the two are identical. I wish you had been scouting for errors to mock me with earlier…nobody else caught it. Maybe nobody else noticed it, as is really disturbing. As for my dumb typos, they are no LOLing matter…

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