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There’s one issue we didn’t fully resolve in our reporting on mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher and former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
Fletcher spent a few months between 2003 and 2005 as the head of Cunningham’s Escondido office, his first job as a congressional staffer. Most of the time, though, Fletcher didn’t work there. He was a reservist and the Marines called him to active duty. Fletcher’s service during that period included seven months fighting in the Iraq war.
But for the entire two years, Cunningham kept Fletcher on the payroll. Fletcher made more than $160,000 from the congressman’s office during that time, legislative records show. This money came on top of what he was earning while in the military.
At the time, no rules existed for paying congressional staffers on military leave beyond a guarantee of three week’s full salary.
So we wanted to know how Cunningham’s office had decided what to pay Fletcher and see what his total pay was with his congressional and military paychecks combined.
We thought this was especially relevant considering how little time Fletcher actually spent working for Cunningham. Over the course of his two year employment, he really only worked in the office for a couple of months.
Both Fletcher and Dave Heil, Cunningham’s then-chief of staff, said the congressional office decided to pay Fletcher the difference between his military pay and his congressional salary. Fletcher said he turned some military pay documents over to Heil and then didn’t worry about it.
“It wasn’t like I was out in Iraq checking my bank account,” Fletcher said in an interview.
Two weeks ago, we asked Fletcher to provide his military earnings. Fletcher agreed. But his campaign staff has yet to provide it. His spokeswoman said Fletcher doesn’t have the salary information any longer and the campaign has been unable to get it from the Department of Defense.
The campaign did release information from Fletcher’s tax returns.
In 2003, Fletcher made about $75,000 from Cunningham’s office and $11,000 from the Marines, totaling $86,000, according to the campaign’s figures. The next year, Fletcher made $70,000 from Cunningham’s office and $22,000 from the military totaling $92,000.
But he likely earned more than what the figures show. Certain military income, such as pay earned while in combat in Iraq for seven months, isn’t taxable so it wouldn’t show up on his tax return.
Even without the untaxed military pay, Fletcher’s 2004 salary put him in the top quarter of what district directors in Congress were making, according to a congressional study. At the time, Fletcher was 25 years old and had never worked for the federal government before. The average district director had almost five years congressional experience, according to the same study.
In 2009, Congress created rules to address the military pay issue. They said legislative staffers are entitled to the difference between the military and congressional salaries while they’re gone. The staffer is required to pay back any money if they’re overpaid, according to internal House rules.
When we discussed Fletcher’s salary with people familiar with military and congressional pay practices, their reaction fell along two extremes. Some were shocked that Fletcher was receiving two federal paychecks. Others were shocked that we were asking about his pay when he was at war.
At this point, we aren’t sure what to make of the information we have, but thought it was significant enough to highlight.
Fletcher’s military salary data, however, would allow us to say definitively what he made. We’re still hoping Fletcher’s campaign will provide it.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5663.
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