Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 19, 2006
By: Christina Larson

I KNOW WHAT YOU MAKE.... Pro sports players, Hollywood starlets, and law-firm associates have long been among the few professionals whose salaries are publicly known, discussed, and compared. Now the same fun is coming to Capitol Hill.

Voila, Legistorm, a new database of congressional staff salaries. As the site notes: "Who is employed by Congress, and how much they are paid, is often a source of fascination for the politically aware. Prior to this site's creation, members of the public needed to visit the document rooms of the House and the Senate in Washington, DC to discover who was being paid what. Now, all this information is available on the web for residents of Alaska or Zanzibar at the click of a mouse."

We're on deadline at the magazine, so I haven't had time to play yet. But in the spirit of open-source journalism, let me know what y'all find.

Christina Larson 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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I want to know what they make UNDER the table.
(or actually, I want everyone else to know).

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on September 19, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Christina, FYI: you + all = y'all, NOT ya'll

Posted by: georgia on September 19, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

The salary of anyone paid by public funds should be public knowledge--as should the salary of anyone of works for an organization which seeks funds from the public for its operation. But when I asked Kevin what his salary was last week, he wouldn't tell me.

Posted by: jayarbee on September 19, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

as should the salary of anyone of works for an organization which seeks funds from the public for its operation

Please explain your reasoning on this. I

Posted by: Edo on September 19, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Man, what a terrible database. It essentially stores one piece of information, a single number (salary), and yet you can't compute any statistics on it. Who is being paid the most? Who are the top N? The top N by state? Who is being paid the least? What is the median salary? The mean? The standard distribution.


Posted by: Bah Humbug on September 19, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Bah Humbug,

I suppose they don't offer an API either huh?

Posted by: Tripp on September 19, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

EDO: Please explain your reasoning on this.

An organization asking for money in order to accomplish goals should reveal all of its goals in order for potential contributors to make an informed decision about whether they are sufficiently in favor of them in total.

For instance, I may not have the goal that various employees of the organization I am considering contributing to be compensated to the extent that they are able to purchase $500,000 homes. On the other hand, if I see that an organization's employees are willing to live modestly in order to advance its causes and goals, I may be moved to similarly sacrifice luxuries by generously contributing to their efforts.

Unlike many, I do not subscribe to the notion that you get what you pay for when it comes to the services of those who are ostensibly motivated by conscience to fight for worthwhile causes and goals. At the very least, I'd like to have some idea about how much of their motivation stems from self-interest. Knowing their salaries is a starting point in making such a determination.

Posted by: jayarbee on September 19, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that organizations that receive public funds to operate should divulge what they pay their employees. Transparency is very important. In fact, I wish that there was more transparency. I was on the website for the Borgen Project and I discovered that the US has made committements to the UN Millennium Development Goals. Unfortuantely we aren't living up to our part of the deal and those goals, which have been lauded by world renouned economist Jeffrey Sachs, most likely won't be successfully achieved according to the timeline set out in the 2000 summit agreement.

Posted by: Kelly on September 19, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Imagine the fun Washingtonienne could have had with this...

Posted by: rstanton on September 19, 2006 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

THOMAS1: I'd be willing to bet that Kevin's Orange County, CA home is worth more than $500,000.

How much and which way would you bet on whether I gave him money when he had his hand out last week?

Regardless, can't say I much approve of your public posting of his address.

Posted by: jayarbee on September 19, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

It's not total crap, but some salaries are listed for a three month periods, others for four, and some with six.

It's cool if you want to see what a specific person makes, but it would be nice it it sortable by job title and/or salary.

Question, does each elected official get a sum of money for salaries ? I looked at Chief of Staff for several people and it looks like they all make about the same. I was expected a couple of the high profile republicans to have whoppers for salaries and found nothing.

Posted by: ScottW on September 19, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Just because you work for the government that doesn't mean that everyone should get to know precisely how much you earn. By that logic your entire personnel file should be part of the public record.

Based on my own experience, government jobs typically indicate a pay range for any given position. That's a good compromise between individual privacy and the public's right to know.

Posted by: joe bob on September 19, 2006 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many of the posters here demanding to know Kevin's salary are willing to post their own? With supporting documentation? I work for a government agency and though my salary has always technically been public knowledge, only recently did the local paper put it all in an easily searchable database and publicize it. I looked up my own just to check the accuracy, but refuse to look up anyone else's. I don't want to know if people who do a harder/better job than I do get paid less than I do any more than I want to know if people I think are useless get paid more than I do.

Public knowledge of your salary is one of the drawbacks of public service. But as far as I know, the Monthly is not covered under FOIA. Until it is, let's all calm down.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on September 19, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK


?Regardless, I agree with you that Kevin should reveal his salary too.


Posted by: Edo on September 19, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK


you have a point that for-profit entities, like the Monthly, should publish some decent financial data before asking for contributions (in fact, I did not contribute, but I do subscribe to the paper version, which I could easily get my hands on for free, because it's worth it to me to get that) Any organization I donate to I expect to share at least revenues/expenses and assets with me in some sort of annual report. I don't need to know what every professor at my alma mater is making, although the President's salary is interesting to me. Basically, what do you take in, what do you spend it on (I don't need to know Kevin's salary, but a collective salary for everyone on the payroll is useful) that sort of thing gives a better idea of how well the group is run than individual numbers.

For instance, your demand for Kevin's particulars doesn't include revenue he may generate (let's imagine the Monthly pays him $100,000, but he generates $150,000 in advertising revenue from this site, and 1000 people subscribe based on the existence of this blog, knoowing his salary certainly wouldn't tell you that, in this case, he would more than pay for himself. maybe he does, maybe he doesn't, but individual salaries alone don't answer that question very well.

Posted by: northzax on September 19, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

Yellow Dog: I have been in the same boat, as a manager of a small non-profit, my compensation package, while shockingly meagre, is available online in our 1099 form. Heck, it's even posted on our own website. part of the downside of being tax-free is better disclosure, even though it costs a lot to comply.

Posted by: northzax on September 19, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Even if Kevin posted his address- I do not think it appropriate to publish it. Further, I do not care what Kevin makes.
But as for Congress- and their employees, I think their salary increases should be approved by referendum only.

Posted by: Out on Bond on September 19, 2006 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that his address should not have been re-posted here. Give the man some privacy, even if he does not want it.

Posted by: gregor on September 19, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK


Because I want to know where my donations end up.

Firstly, specifically how much Mr. Drum earns does not answer this question.

Secondly, I think northzak's points are much stronger than yours. If you want to see a basic Income Statement and Balance Sheet, I can understand that. But a need to know how much Mr. Drum earns doesn't really tell you much about the overall fiscal picture at Washington Monthly. I think you are being disingenuous in describing your motives.

Posted by: Edo on September 19, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

I don't care a lot what each person makes, though I'm sure it matters to some people. The reason this is public is because it's taxpayer money being spent.

What strikes me is how many people work on the staffs of some in Congress. Some have dozens of assistants/managers/interns, and I wonder what they all do.

Posted by: JJF on September 19, 2006 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

House members get a set pot of money with which they can hire staff. There is a maximum salary and a maximum number of employees -- 18. Within those bounds they can largely pay people what they want based on their own needs -- pay a press secretary a huge amount, make the legislative director or COS the key player. It varies. Senators get a budget based on the state they represent, thus a California Senator may have 60 staffers, where someone from a smaller state far fewer. All of this information is already published quarterly in volumes issued by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. Those reports also show other expenses in addition to salaries -- newspaper subscriptions, travel, office rent in state or district etc. These reports are more useful because, although they are not online, you can easily see if a person is being paid in more than one account -- say, half by the member's personal staff and half by the committee she chairs. It doesn't seem like you can do that on this web site.

As far as the "Plum Book," which Thomas1 (Charlie) is prattling on about, that is a book that lists positions in the Executive Branch, not in the Congress. But his confusion is entirely predictable. His type seem increasingly unable to tell the difference between the two branches or understand that true conservatives like our Founders wanted the Congress to be a separate independent branch.

Posted by: Pat on September 19, 2006 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

>Just trying to be accomodating, that's all

The proper term for that statement is "utter horseshit", but I'm sure you knew that already.

Posted by: Calton Bolick on September 19, 2006 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

My point is that this Legislative Branch salary information -- and far more detailed information on Congressional spending -- has always been available in the public reports I posted about above. This is not new. In fact the Legislative Branch has always given FAR MORE information about its employees and budgets than the Executive ever has. The Plum Book does not lists the individual in a given position or even note if a given executive branch positions is filled -- it just lists generic government positions. Congress tells you every single penny it spends including when some staffer gets reimbursed $9 for a taxi ride from the airport to the office. Try getting that detail about the salary sand spending of your local government employee sometime.

Posted by: Pat on September 19, 2006 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Again, I brought it up to show that the data recently available online for Congressional STAFF has been available for the Executive Branch (since 1952 in fact).

Posted by: Thomas1 on September 19, 2006 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

Agin, there, Charlie, it's not "recently availible." The data has always been availible. But don't let the facts stop you from posting.

Posted by: Pat on September 19, 2006 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

When I worked on the Hill in 1986, I was paid $535 per month. Before taxes. Not that taxes amounted to all that much with such a low salary. I took perverse pleasure in the fact that, given the hours I was working, I was making less than minimum wage.

Posted by: Jeff Cooper on September 19, 2006 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK
I suppose they don't offer an API either huh?

Tripp: I'm not talking about programmatic access. I'm just saying that they made this big website, and yet it's incapable of answering what I imagine is the very most common question people would want to pose to it: who are being paid the most? And the second most common question: what is the average salary? It's like Yahoo building their big taxonomy, but then all they let you do is Google-style searches.

Who would do something like that?

Posted by: Bah Humbug on September 19, 2006 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

OK, what was just my appreciation of and admiration for Thomas1 has evolved towards open affection.

Posted by: Billy Bob Shranzburg on September 20, 2006 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK



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