In the corporate world, the practice of nepotism is not only tolerated, but common. Some of the richest people in America, and the world, have achieved much of their business success through their family connections: The Koch family, the Cargills, and the Waltons have accumulated vast sums of wealth through their parents’ and grandparents’ companies. Even the self-styled hard working entrepreneur Donald Trump got his start at his father’s company.
But in government service, nepotism is frowned upon, and often prohibited. A substantiated allegation of nepotism could bring about investigations, ethics hearings and serious repercussions in many states – but not all.Take, for example, the recent allegations of nepotism in Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage (pictured, right) was accused of improper favoritism when he hired his daughter.
In December 2010, just days before Christmas, LePage’s administration announced that the governor’s 22-year-old daughter Lauren, a recent college graduate with a degree in Biological Sciences, would join the executive branch as assistant to the Governor’s chief of staff.
Lauren LePage’s new job came with a $41,000 annual salary, and another estimated $15,000 in benefits.
While the announcement was enough to raise eyebrows, there was no policy on the books in Maine that would discourage LePage from hiring his daughter, nor was her hiring subject to any sort of review. The Bangor Daily News took the announcement to Joyce Osreskovitch, then the acting director of the state’s Bureau of Human Resources.
Oreskovitch told the Daily News that employment decisions made by the governor are “political appointments not subject to any of the Civil Service Law’s provisions.”
The circumstances around LePage’s hire focused attention on Maine’s lack of an anti-nepotism law for the executive branch. Maine Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, responding to what she now calls an “outpouring of concern by my constituents and people in the state,” set about to change this. Dill (pictured, right) sponsored L.D. 840, a bill that would prohibit Maine officials from hiring family members. But L.D. 840 was voted down in May, despite a strong endorsement from the Portland Press Herald editorial board, which said the bill “would keep elected officials from turning public office into personal cash registers.”
Dill blames the legislation’s failure on Democrats not wanting to upset the status quo, and Republicans, who held a majority in the state senate and house, seeing the legislation as a partisan attack on the governor. (Dill, who writes on her own blog and is an occasional contributor to the Huffington Post, had written numerous pieces critical of Govenor LePage, an outspoken Republican in his first term.)
Dill says L.D. 840 would not have taken effect retroactively, meaning Lauren LePage would’ve been allowed to keep her new job. Dill also asserts the bill wasn’t an attack on LePage or his daughter.
“[Lauren LePage] is a perfectly fine young woman,” Dill said.
Dill says she hopes legislation to close Maine’s nepotism loophole will come back with bipartisan support, asserting the bill is not meant to be a personal strike against Governor LePage, but a response to the concerns of her constituents.
“People were really upset, and I believe they were justifiably upset,” Dill says. “We have so many people out of work, looking for jobs. With nepotism, the perception is that somebody got the job not because of what they know, but who they know.”