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Spotlight Shifts to Lieberman’s Children

The presidential campaign of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman lost its two top finance staffers this week in a staff purge that drew attention to the six-figure salaries the campaign was paying to Lieberman’s children for their work as fundraisers.

Finance director Shari Yost and her deputy, Jennifer Yocham, resigned, in what the campaign described as a dispute with campaign director Craig Smith over “vision” and the best way to cut expenses.

Even as the campaign was shedding staff, some observers were raising their eyebrows at the salaries of Lieberman’s two eldest children — who were being paid wages that would net each of them $100,000 a year, a source said.

The campaign, however, is crediting the senator’s children, Matt and Rebecca, with being instrumental in boosting his fundraising total to $5.14 million last quarter.

“No one knows Joe Lieberman better than Joe Lieberman’s kids,” campaign spokesman Jano Cabrera told the Forward. “Matt and Rebecca were absolutely instrumental in helping us in our second-quarter push. We raised more than we expected and in large part that’s due to them.”

A source confirmed a Washington Post report that the Lieberman siblings would absorb 20% pay cuts as part of the staff shake-up.

It evidently is not that unusual for candidates to pay their children as campaign staffers, although professionals consider the amount the Lieberman children are being paid to be quite high. Chrissy Gephardt is working full-time for the presidential campaign of her father, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, and is being paid $3,500 a month, according to Gephardt campaign spokesman Erik Smith. President Bush received a $5,000 per month consulting fee for about a year from his father’s 1988 presidential bid. The late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and former Rep. Robert Dornan of California all paid their children as staffers at various times.

While some grumbled that, given their eye-popping salaries, the Lieberman children were not pulling their weight as fundraisers, Matt Lieberman defended both siblings’ performance. “We feel great about how effective we’ve been able to be, especially in the run-up last quarter,” he told the Forward. “We played substantial roles in getting us over the top and exceeding our expectations.” Matt said he could not name the exact amount he had raised, but said he knows that it is “comfortably into the six figures over the last three months, a lot of that in the last month.”

Rebecca hosted a fundraiser at a Manhattan club, Lotus, that brought in $125,000, which was $25,000 above its goal, she told the Forward. Matt made hay among his Yale Law School friends. Both children hit the phones, big time, said Rebecca, who described her dad as appreciative. “I’m always happy to give my dad naches,” she said, using the Yiddish word for “good feeling.”

Senator Lieberman’s mother, Marcia, was also reportedly proud of her grandchildren. “As the [June 30 quarterly] deadline approached, we were all on the phone,” Rebecca said. “When we got over $5 million, she was so excited she didn’t sleep.”

The staff cuts were necessitated by the fact that Lieberman’s campaign lagged behind the field’s two top earners — former Vermont governor Howard Dean and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry — in contributions last quarter and has been spending a higher proportion of its funds. The candidate spent $2.87 million and has $4.04 million in cash on hand.

As part of the shake-up, the Lieberman campaign also announced Yost’s replacement: California fundraiser Tracy Sturman. It hired Mike Liddell to do Internet fundraising — an area where Dean vastly outpaced the field. Yost will stay on the campaign in a part-time capacity as a senior adviser. The campaign is also shaking up its cadre of volunteer fundraisers, with one, Lieberman aide Elliot Gerson, moving to the fore. “What we’re doing is we’ve elevated Elliot to do this full-time,” Lieberman’s national finance co-chairman Mitchell Berger, who has heretofore been the most visible of Lieberman’s fundraisers, told the Forward. “I can’t move to Washington. [Former California congressman and finance co-chairman] Mel Levine can’t either…. This is good for us.”

Amid all the shake-ups, the “Jewish” wing of Lieberman’s finance department appears to remain intact. Jewish community liaison Jay Footlik; his deputy, Stephanie Schneider, and staffers Robbie Diamond and Jared Asch all retained their jobs.

Meanwhile, politically, things look promising for the campaign, Berger said. “The left wing of the party is going to have to decide between Kerry and Dean who they want to challenge Joe Lieberman,” he said. “They will decide that in the first two primaries.”

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