The Iowa Senate has voted to forbid all 50 senators from taking paid positions on political campaigns, but they balked at a proposal which would have put limits on the kinds of jobs the spouses of senators may have. Senator Mark Chelgren , a Republican from Ottumwa, lobbied for that new restriction on spouses.
“If we hold ourselves as senators to a certain ethical standard, then our partners in life should be held to a similar standard,” Chelgren says. Chelgren wanted legislators to agree that their spouses should not have or take jobs that pose a conflict of interest by, for example, working for groups which lobby legislators.
“For those of us who have made a committment to a spouse, it is a partnership,” Chelgren says. “In that partnership, we benefit from the financial windfall of our spouse and therefore we need to be clear that there’s not the appearance of impropriety on either one of our sides.”
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, opposed putting employment restrictions on senate spouses. “This is a rule in search of a problem and, you know, how many times do you hear people at home say, ‘Hey, you guys don’t need those rules and all those laws’?” Hogg says. “And this applies to this, too. We don’t need this rule or this law.” Hogg called the proposed rule an “arbitrary limit” on a spouse’s right to work.
“Senators live in a real world,” Hogg says. “This is not the United States Congress where we’re all making six-figure salaries and having, you know, the comprehensive health benefits and pensions for life. This is the real world where we get paid, part-time…$25,000 a year and in that situation senators generally need to have outside employment and, frequently, their spouses need to have outside employment.”
Hogg also argued the proposed rule could inhibit the love lives of single senators. “It’s not hard to imagine a situation where a senator, because of the nature of our jobs, would meet someone who works for a political action committee,” Hogg says, “And, this being America, they might fall in love with that person they’re dealing with who happens to work for a political action committee.” According to Hogg, in that scenario, the person would have to resign from their job in order to marry a senator.
Chelgren responded, saying “falling in love is a wonderful thing” for a single state senator. “But you’ll have to make some sacrifices if those cause a conflict of interest with your job here…A conflict of interest is a major concern for the people who have elected us to office,” Chelgren said. “And the number one influence in my life — and I won’t speak for everyone here — is my wife and so for that reason alone I would be uncomfortable with her taking a job from a group that would pay her specifically to try to influence me.”
Chelgren’s proposal failed. Without debate, the senate embraced another rule which forbids them from taking paid jobs in organizations that work for the nomination, election and defeat of a candidate for public office.