SC’s Clyburn has found companionship since wife’s death. She’s also on his campaign payroll

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Santee, whose wife, Emily, died in 2019, has had a companion on his campaign payroll since 2021, according to Federal Elections Commission reports.

Clyburn has paid Virginia Newman $50,000 out of campaign funds since November 2021 through the first quarter of 2024 for clerical services, according to FEC reports.

Clyburn, South Carolina’s highest ranking Democratic elected official, has not publicly discussed his relationship with Newman, but they have attended events together.

In December 2022 Clyburn and Newman attended a state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron.

In January, when President Joe Biden visited Columbia ahead of South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary, Clyburn was among those to greet Biden when Air Force One arrived in Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

Newman joined Clyburn as his only guest.

An official with the White House described Newman as Clyburn’s partner. Clyburn’s office later described the relationship as “someone he spends his time with.”

Emily Clyburn, who was married to Jim Clyburn for 58 years, died in September 2019.

Clyburn, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, does not draw serious election challenges. However, he is able to raise millions for reelection, which he can then donate to other campaigns.

It is not illegal to pay family members or significant others for campaign duties. Clyburn’s grandson Walter Reed served as campaign manager during the 2022 campaign.

Michael Toner, an election law attorney who served on the Federal Elections Commission from 2002 through 2007, including as its chairman in 2006, said it’s legal for candidates to employ family members and significant others as long as they’re performing actual work and are being paid an appropriate wage or salary for the area for the work.

Toner conceded the practice of hiring family members or significant others is criticized if someone is being paid above fair market value or because of the appearance of nepotism.

“The rule is family members, sons, daughters, parents and significant others can work for federal campaigns, they can work for federal leadership PACs, as long as they’re doing bona fide work and as long as they’re being paid fair market value for their services,” Toner said.

Toner describe the amount of money paid to Newman as a modest sum, especially as its spread over three and half years. Newman’s pay was about $22,000 a year for 2022 and 2023.

“That doesn’t strike me as outlandish,” Toner said. “That seems pretty reasonable.”

Clyburn’s campaign would not comment on the relationship between Newman and the congressman.

“As properly reported in FEC reports, Ms. Virginia Newman performs various financial bookkeeping and clerical services for the campaign,” Clyburn campaign spokeswoman Brianna Frias said in a statement to The State. “Ms. Newman originally began performing clerical duties when the congressman ran for Secretary of State and other state-level offices early in his career and resumed the role in 2021. She has decades of professional experience in this area and is paid a fair market rate for her services.”