Friday, August 25, 2006

Billy Dalto's "almost fraud" finally makes the MSM

Thanks to TA Barnhart at Blue Oregon, I found out that the Statesman Journal picked up on the story of Billy Dalto hiring his mother and the income not declared on her bankruptcy statements:

Democrats and liberal bloggers are attacking state Rep. Billy Dalto, R-Salem, for hiring his mother -- a Latin jazz vocalist from New York City -- as his legislative aide last summer, just as she was experiencing financial woes.

The issue could pose a problem for Dalto's re-election race against Democrat Brian Clem. It widely is considered one of a handful of House races that could tilt control of the chamber in November.

Republicans control the House with a 33-27 majority, but Democrats expect to make gains in the fall.

Dalto said the race should hinge on issues facing his constituents in east and central Salem, not his mother, a nonpolitician.

"This is a concerted effort by the Democrats to practice the politics of personal destruction to try and get the House back," Dalto said.

Clem said he will steer clear of discussing the financial problems of Adela Dalto, a veteran performer and recording artist. But Clem polled district residents about Billy Dalto's hiring decision and said the issue resonates with many voters.

There is a legitimate issue about Adela Dalto's lack of qualifications and "inordinate" pay, Clem said, because public money covered her salary.

"I do think he's got some questions to answer," Clem said.

Nepotism common

Legislator hiring of family members to run their Salem offices is a widely accepted practice in Oregon because legislators are paid only $17,244 per year and often are separated from spouses while toiling full-time during legislative sessions.

"I think that's a smart move for some of them," said Dawn Phillips, who has worked as an aide for 12 lawmakers. "A lot of these legislators look for someone who was by their side through thick and thin through other sides of their life. That's who they trust."

A recent survey showed that 13 of the 30 state senators hired family members and that 24 of the 60 House members did the same, said legislative administrator Dave Henderson.

Lawmakers are free to hire who they want at the salaries they choose within a limited budget. Staff salaries range from $200 per month for part-time duties to $3,500 or $4,000 per month for full-time work, Henderson said.

Dalto said he was in a bind when his aide left before the 2005 session ended. So he hired his mother to answer phones, check mail and e-mail, make calls and help constituents.

"I was kind of stuck without a legislative aide," he said. "I trust my mom."

He paid his mother the equivalent of $3,500 per month for nearly three months' work, compared with $2,600 paid to her predecessor.

Bankruptcy complicates issue

The issue grew political legs July 28, when liberal blog Loaded Orygun revealed that Adela Dalto had filed for bankruptcy right after she was hired by her son and failed to report her legislative income in bankruptcy filings.

Better late than never.

Its unfortunate that the Steve Law, the writer of the SJ piece didn't contact me for a quote, at least. Especially given that he published Dalto's lame-assed response from our comments:

Dalto also felt compelled to submit a response on the Loaded Orygun blog.

"My mother is a very special lady who had some financial trouble," he wrote, "and this attack is hurtful and bad enough, but to use it as a campaign issue is an obvious sign of desperation."

What a load.

I didn't attack Billy Dalto's mother. I don't care that he hired her (except that he paid her a lot more for the job compared to what he's paid previous staffers). I don't care that she had financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy--not my business. What I care about is that she filed bankruptcy while accepting Oregon taxpayer dollars and then didn't declare that income.

I also find it very difficult to believe that Billy Dalto didn't know of his mother's situation. Yes, that means I think he's lying. He was close enough to her to bring her all the way across the country to work for him at an inflated salary. But he's not close enough to her to know that she's in serious financial trouble?

That doesn't add up.

But at least the story is out there.