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Washington — U.S. House hopeful Rashida Tlaib has paid herself a $4,000-a-month salary from campaign funds, which is legal under federal rules and common, experts say.

Tlaib, a former state lawmaker from Detroit, is running in the Democratic primary in the 13th District to succeed resigned U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. along with five other candidates.

Tlaib reported her salary — $4,000 a month in May and June — in her latest filing with the Federal Election Commission. 

Tlaib says she took a leave of absence from her position as a lawyer for the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice to campaign, cutting down her hours at the firm to seven a week.

Campaign donors want her to win and understand that entails stepping away from a steady paycheck to spend more time with voters, Tlaib said.

“I pay exactly what I need for me to step away from my full-time position,” she said.

Unlike some of her opponents, Tlaib said she does not currently hold an office that would allow her to campaign “on the public dime." 

“It shows for me there is so much more at stake because I’ve put my life on hold,” she added.

Other hopefuls include Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, state Sens. Ian Conyers and Coleman Young, Westland Mayor Bill Wild and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson. 

Tlaib has raised by far the most money among the candidates in the race — more than $893,000 through June 30. 

Her personal financial disclosure filed with the U.S. House in May shows that Tlaib made about $112,000 in 2017, including a $68,300 fellowship stipend.

Campaign spokesman TJ Bucholz said, given that income level, Tlaib is actually entitled to "far more" under FEC guidelines than the $4,000 a month she has elected to pay herself during the campaign.

"In short, Rashida is a single mother of two children working tirelessly on the trail and she’s not independently wealthy," Bucholz said. 

"The salary is nominal and necessary for her to be a full-time candidate trying to take a progressive vision to Washington."

FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram said she doesn't know how frequently candidates pay themselves a salary from campaign funds, but "it’s not unheard of at all." 

"I’ve seen plenty of examples, but that is not a scientific answer," Ingram said. 

Under federal law, candidates may pay themselves a salary within limits, as long as they are not an incumbent federal officeholder and the salary paid comes from the principal campaign committee.

The salary is capped at the lesser of the candidate’s prior year income or the salary of the office that they are seeking (U.S. House members make $174,000 a year).

Salary payments may continue until the date when the candidate is no longer considered a candidate for office or until the date of the general election or general election runoff. 

Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at the watchdog group Common Cause, said it's "not uncommon" for candidates to pay themselves a salary, but that reporters often call him to ask if it's legal. 

Ryan said it’s a "good thing" to allow candidates to pay themselves a salary as a matter of public policy. 

"Without allowing candidates to pay themselves, the only people who could afford to run for public office would be independently wealthy individuals who can afford to take a year off from making a living in order to run," Ryan said. 

"I don't think that's how democracy should work. All sorts of people should be able to run for office."

The FEC ruled earlier this year that federal candidates may use campaign funds to pay for child care costs that directly resulted from time spent campaigning for office, Ryan noted.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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