What do Congressional staffers earn?

Angling for a behind-the-scenes staff job on Capitol Hill? If so, you’re probably curious about what salaries are like in the capital of the free world. Even if you’re not hoping to put that poli sci degree into play in DC, you might be interested in knowing what Congressional representatives and Senators pay the staffers who do the trench work [while their bosses get all the glory—if there’s any to be had, that is.] Lucky for you—and all of us who care about transparency [and gossip]– there’s Legistorm.

On Dec. 5, 2011, Legistorm posted the latest data on staff salaries, gleaned from official records published by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. According to Legistorm, the Senate publishes its data every six months; the House, every three months. The December 2011 information release represents the first time that the Senate has published its staff-salary data electronically. Previously, this information was available only in printed volumes, making Legistorm’s job much more difficult. This time, because Legistorm staffers didn’t have to manually enter all of the information into its database, the information became available in less than three business days—a record, according to Legistorm.

So, what do we learn from this data? We already know that, for the most part, elected members of Congress make the same as each other [as of January 2011, $174,000]. But they have broad discretion in how they pay their staff.

A few aides are well paid by any measure. Many others make an embarrassing sum, especially in an expensive city such as Washington, DC at jobs that can have a ferocious intensity to them. While Congress is in session, Congressional aides often work well into the night, sometimes into the early morning, to craft legislation or to broker deals with the administration.

And yet because of their prestige, competition for congressional jobs is fierce. Lawyers with Ivy League educations seek positions earning a small fraction of what they might work for at a private law firm. In fact, many experienced congressional staffers leave the public sector to find jobs in the private sector making many times what they make in Congress. Of course, their value in the private sector is sometimes enhanced not by their skills but by the personal connections they make while working for Congress.

So, how much do they earn?

Legistorm offers a variety of ways to browse its database. You can search by staffer, representative, senator, committee, leadership office, administrative office, or state. Legistorm has 11 years of this stuff, so it’s a rich database. Below are a few examples from the most recent report.  The amounts listed are salaries paid during the covered time period. In a simple world, you could calculate annual salaries with some basic multiplication. But, according to Legistorm, it’s simply not that simple.

Congressional staff salaries shown are the amount paid in the period shown. They are not annual salaries. Because bonuses may be included here and other payments may not be (most notably with aides working for multiple offices or for a political campaign committee.”

We encourage all users to keep in mind that information on our site can easily be misused, that raw data can have limitations. Sometimes context is vitally important.

That said, here are the promised examples, randomly selected and in no particular order. It’s a fascinating database. Do your own research, draw your own conclusions…

Time frame – 7/01/11 to 9/30/11

  • Constituent advocate, Rep. Jan Schakowsky [D-IL]                                           $11,499.99
  • Press secretary, House Natural Resources Committee                                      $18,750.00
  • Senior professional staff member, House Foreign Affairs Committee:          $34,166.67
  • Staff associate & policy assistant, House Foreign Affairs Committee:           $  9,999.99
  • Staff assistant, House Space & Technology Committee                                     $12,500.01

Time frame – 4/01/11 to 9/30/11

  • Professional staff member, Senate Ethics Committee                                       $50,089.00
  • Special assistant for financial disclosure, Senate Ethics Committee               $17,999.96
  • Legislative assistant to Senator Bernie Sanders [I-VT]                                       $21,666.64
  • Caseworker for Senator Dick Durbin [D-IL]                                                          $20,801,40