SIOUX CITY | As Rep. Steve King aims for an eighth term in the U.S. House, one of his three sons again has a chief role in his re-election campaign.
King's youngest son, Jeff, quickly became part of his father's team after Steve King, a Republican businessman from Kiron, was first elected to Congress in 2002. Jeff King now serves as campaign chairman, and he's been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from his father's campaign in the 12 years.
"Advancing the conservative movement is why dad and I are into this," Jeff King told the Journal in an interview Friday.
Jeff King said he enjoys working for his father, even if the congressman jokes that people can treat family members roughly, knowing they won't quit. At least he thinks his father is "90 percent joking" on that.
"I have worked for some characters, and he is not a character, but he has his quirks...He works harder than anybody on staff and I hate to admit that," Jeff King said.
King does a variety of tasks for his father's campaign team. He undertakes fundraising, oversees other workers, helps with debate preparations and helps organize notable annual Steve King events as the Defenders of Freedom and Pheasant Hunt, both of which frequently draw Republican presidential wannabees.
"I am with Dad quite a bit when he is back in the district," Jeff King said.
Steve King said his son is a valuable member of his team and that he is paid little in comparison to the expertise delivered.
"Jeff King is so far undefeated, so I think that is pretty good... He is a highly valued individual. That is chump change, for what we get," the congressman told the Journal editorial board in May.
Jeff King is paid for year-round work, not just in the final months as a campaign ramps up to election day every two years.
Steve King said keeping his son on as an employee continuously saves money. The congressman said if he ran a campaign in the months before a November even-year election, then let the people go, before hiring a new staff, it would take extra time and money to gear them up.
Back in the 2000s, while Steve King represented the heavily Republican 5th District, his campaign team was sometimes just Jeff King and one other staffer, he said.
"He has accumulated an institutional knowledge that allows me to keep my mind on my job and not so much on the campaign. That helps me serve Iowans. You can't hire that, out there. The skill set that Jeff King has is not in the marketplace -- you'd have to raise it and you'd have to build it -- and he's been part of this team for as long as I've been in Congress," the congressman said.
NORTHWEST IOWA ROOTS
Steve King and his wife, Marilyn, reside in Kiron, where they built an earth moving construction business while raising their three sons. Jeff was 22 and a recent Iowa State University graduate when his father, then a state senator, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2002.
Jeff King said he initially thought he would work for his father on his congressional staff, until learning that wasn't possible given nepotism rules. He went to Washington in early 2003 to work for a group advocating adoption of English as the official language of the U.S., and became a paid staffer for his father's first re-election campaign in 2004.
Now, 37, Jeff lives in Wall Lake, with his wife, Lindsay, and their three children. Jeff acknowledged the campaign work is now tougher to juggle with family duties. The roles and pay levels for him have changed over the years. He was paid $18,839 for "consulting fees" in the first six months of 2005.
Jeff said the job title doesn't matter, he just likes boosting his father in re-election cycles.
"I definitely take pride in (his father's re-election). Not just for the wins, but because dad is the right person for the job," he said.
HOUSE NEPOTISM RULES
There is no law that says a federal legislator can't hire a family member for political campaigns. However, the rules are more stringent in the hiring of family for their congressional staffs, per the Committee on House Administration handbook on nepotism.
It also is a rarity in Iowa politics for a major state or federal officeholder to hire a son as a paid campaign staffer, although some children certainly have volunteered to help boost a parent's election quests.
Eric Branstad, a son of six-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, has worked on campaign teams for others, but not his father. Other Iowa congressman in recent years, including the state's three other Reps. Rod Blum, David Loebsack and David Young, are not believed to have hired their sons or daughters to work on their campaign teams.
Like other members, Steve King's campaign team also includes non-family members. For instance, in 2012 he hired additional staff when facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Christie Vilsack, a former Iowa first lady. Jeff King said the team rose to a half-dozen campaign workers to compete with Vilsack, who he said has been the congressman's toughest competitor.
DAUGHTER-IN-LAW ALSO PAID
Steve King amasses campaign funds from individuals and political action committees, then doles out the money to targeted expenses. Those financial amounts are detailed in required Federal Election Commission reports.
Federal Election Commission figures show Jeff King was paid $49,992 in 2013 for his role as campaign chairman. Jeff King's wife, Lindsay, was paid for the first six months of 2013 for data entry, then moved to office manager in July, when her pay level increased.
Jeff and Lindsay King received a total of $69,327 for 2013, or 16 percent of the $444,832 in operating expenditures that King's campaign paid out for the year.
In the current election cycle, figures from 2015 and 2016 reports show Jeff King received $94,988 over 18 months through June. (The next quarterly report will summarize finances through September.) Receiving paychecks twice per month, he got a raise in pay from $4,166 per month to $5,416 per month as 2015 went on.
The first quarter 2016 FEC report showed nearly $8,000 combined per month going to Jeff and Lindsay King. As campaign chairman, Jeff King received $5,416 each month, with Lindsay King collecting $2,400 as office manager, from January through March.
PAC TOOK ISSUE
Funds directed to King family members became a campaign issue earlier this year as Steve King fended off a primary challenge from Republican Rick Bertrand, a state senator from Sioux City.
In May, while meeting with the Journal editorial board, Steve King examined a copy of a mailer sent by the American Future Fund Political Action Committee that summarized payments from King's congressional campaign since 2003.
"Congressman King and his family have received payments totalling (sic) $797,020 from his congressional campaign account," said the flier, which was mailed to 4th District votes in the run up to the primary election in June. The flyer also cited that King family campaign disbursements were above $91,000 in 2015, or 23 cents out of every dollar.
Steve King said he didn't like that AFF was the source of the mailer, calling Iowa political consultant Nick Ryan, who was affiliated with the PAC, "the hatchet man."
King said 23 percent of his funding going to Jeff and Lindsay King wasn't too high.
"Some people have seen that and commented, 'That is pretty cheap,' " the congressman told the Journal editorial board.
By comparison, Steve King said the engineering fees for expanding U.S. Highway 20 in Northwest Iowa are 18 percent of the project.
"Everybody has overhead in their campaign. It would be a smaller percentage if we raised more money and ran more ads. But we didn't do that, we raised the money that we needed, and we spent it wisely," Steve King said.
OTHER IOWA CAMPAIGN PAY VARIES
Steve King faces Democrat Kim Weaver of Sheldon in the Nov. 8 general election. Weaver's most recent campaign finance report, showed paying her campaign manager David Kelso $976 every two weeks, or $1,952 per month.
Three Iowa congressmen are running for re-election in 2016. 1st District Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican, lists no wage payments to a campaign manager this year, although he paid consultant fees.