Sestak fires back, but doesn’t dispute low staff pay

Congressman Joe Sestak isn’t disputing the fact most of his staffers are paid salaries below the minimum wage – but says Senator Arlen Specter’s campaign is only pointing that out because they’re worried about the incumbent Democrat’s approval ratings.

Sestak and Specter are running against each other in this spring’s Democratic Senate primary.

In a Friday afternoon interview, Sestak said his staffers are making a “personal sacrifice” to work on his campaign, and that Specter is going negative because of bad poll numbers. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that Arlen Specter’s negative personal attacks came immediately after another poll that shows after 30 years, only 25 percent of Pennsylvanians think Senator Specter deserves reelection,” he said. “And I think they’re panicking.”

The recent Franklin and Marshall College poll gave Specter a 33-16 percent lead over Sestak, with 44 percent of respondents undecided. Republican Pat Toomey is ahead of both Democrats in hypothetical matchups.

Sestak then went on the attack himself. “I think it’s kind of ironic for Senator Specter to give any lectures about staff, given his well-documented issues with having staff members warm up his classic Jaguar or line up squash partners when he’s traveling abroad.”

Specter’s campaign manager, Chris Nicholas, said he wouldn’t respond to Sestak’s barb, but called his opponent’s staff salaries “pathetically low,” and inconsistent with Democratic principles.

The Specter campaign provided payroll information from the fourth quarter of 2009. According to their figures, Nicholas made $7,000 a month, which translates to $84,000 a year, or $43.70 an hour, over the course of four 40-hour work weeks. (Of course, the vast majority of campaign staffers work more than 40 hours a week.) The campaign’s lowest-paid full time employee made $2,300 a month. That’s $27,600 annually, or $14.38 an hour.

According to the Specter camp’s analysis of federal campaign finance reports, the average Sestak staffer makes about $1,400 a month. That excludes Sestak’s three siblings on the campaign payroll, who earn higher amounts.

About pubradiopolitics
Scott covers state government and politics for Pennsylvania's public radio stations, including WITF in Harrisburg, WHYY in Philadelphia and WDUQ in Pittsburgh.

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