As Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul faces the prospect of raising funds for a presidential bid in 2016, his top political adviser has been tapping conservatives and political insiders for money to help go toward the adoption of a new child, The Washington Times reported.
Doug Stafford, Paul's former chief of staff and currently a top aide on his political action committee, sent out an email and Internet appeal to raise $30,000 to help Stafford and his wife with the costs of adopting a second child, prompting accusations of an ethical lapse that threatens to undermine Paul's standing.
"When this was brought to my attention, I was surprised and disappointed," Becky Norton Dunlop, treasurer of the American Conservative Union and vice president at the Heritage Foundation, told the Times. "My family adopted a young boy when my parents already had four children so I know a little about the subjects, adoption and financial need."
She added that she doesn't "know the Stafford family but it seems that if you really want to add to your family by adoption, your family should be able to afford to do so without a fundraising campaign."
Ethics experts said Stafford's appeal has not violated any laws but raises questions about his judgment given that his request for money could be exploited by special interests to gain favor or access to Paul, the Times said.
"Whenever you are dealing with a potential presidential candidate, the personal lives of staff are often very much a part of the campaign," Kent Cooper, the Federal Election Commission's former chief of disclosure, told the Times.
"Many potential donors see all these actions of the staff as requests on behalf of the campaign, and that is what he should have known. He should know as the candidate's chief gatekeeper that anything he does might be construed as maintaining favor with the senator."
Merrill Matthews, a former ethics professor, told the Times he agreed.
"People in prominent and public positions, or who can provide access to them, have to be especially careful about asking for donations because others can feel they must contribute if they want to maintain that relationship," he said. "That perception exists even if there is no connection."
But others are behind Stafford's efforts.
"While we don't know all the details of anyone's particular situation, the idea of a community-based support for adoption is as common as the practice itself," Kelly Rosati, a vice president of Focus on the Family, told the Times.
"So whether it's colleagues, friends, relatives, or fellow parishioners, there are many people who would consider it an honor to play even a small role in the beauty of adoption."
Stafford has already raised $22,516 from 18 people, six of whom are connected to RAND PAC, Paul's political action committee which raises money to donate to other candidates and acts as a pre-campaign organization for a potential White House bid.
Stafford told the Times that he saw nothing wrong with his financial appeal.
"My family believes strongly that being pro-life means taking that to heart and in our home," he said. "We join many families who have chosen to raise funds for adoption and are pleased to have both the prayers and the support of our family and friends in this important event."
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