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Madison Cawthorn lead staffer makes $127,000 despite no experience, Republican source says

Asheville Citizen Times logo Asheville Citizen Times 6/15/2021 Joel Burgess, Asheville Citizen Times
a person sitting at a table using a laptop: Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaks on the U.S. House floor Jan. 13 before the vote to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time. © CSPAN Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaks on the U.S. House floor Jan. 13 before the vote to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time.

The top staffer for Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina makes the equivalent of a $127,111 annual salary despite having no background in government and little other work experience except for running Texas fireworks stands, according to recently released congressional spending reports and a Republican Capitol Hill source. 

A Texas fireworks stand owned by Blake Harp, who became Rep. Madison Cawthorn's chief of staff. © Facebook A Texas fireworks stand owned by Blake Harp, who became Rep. Madison Cawthorn's chief of staff.

The quarterly disbursements statement shows the first-term Western North Carolina Republican Cawthorn's Chief of Staff William "Blake" Harp made $31,777.77 in the first quarter of the year, the equivalent of $127,111 annually.

That is not unusual for a person running the office of a member of Congress. But Harp, who apparently knew Cawthorn since at least 2016 when Cawthorn was 20 years old and Harp was of a similar age, has no background in government, unlike other chiefs of staff, a Republican legislative staff member said.

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The staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said Harp had said his only work had been a construction job and running fireworks stands in Texas, where he grew up.

"One hundred twenty-seven thousand dollars is not exorbitant for a chief. It's highway robbery for anyone for whom it's their first real job and they bring no discernible skills," the staffer said.

Cawthorn spokesman Micah Bock did not respond June 14 to requests for a comment or for Harp's resume or some other record of his experience.

Cawthorn has drawn widespread attention and criticism as a far-right firebrand. His controversial views have included staunch support for former President Donald Trump. He spoke on the same stage as Trump at a rally that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

More: On House floor, Cawthorn condemns 'actions of a violent few'; invokes great battles

On his Facebook page, Harp listed "Bubba's Fireworks" under "likes." His father, Bill Harp, in a 2018 post on his Facebook page said, "If you are looking to purchase some fireworks, stop by one of my sons three locations- Wylie, Melissa or Canton."

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Of the more than half dozen top staffers for N.C. members of Congress checked by the Citizen Times, their experience ranged from six to 17 years in the House, according to their LinkedIn accounts. Several had additional related experience, such as being a federal policy director for a nonprofit or government internships.

Mathew Lee, for example, was a legislative director for six years before becoming chief of staff for Rep. Deborah Ross, his account said. He now makes $122,222.24.

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Justin Wein's LinkedIn account shows he worked 17 years in the House, including two as chief for Rep. David Price. For that job, as well as being Price's assistant on the Appropriations Committee, Wein makes $152,913.92.


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Harp's LinkedIn page showed no experience except the few months as chief of staff. No education is listed.

He and Cawthorn are pictured together in a photo posted in 2016 by Harp's father. That is two years after injuries from a serious car accident that left Cawthorn partially paralyzed and four years before he became the youngest member of Congress. 

a group of people posing for a photo: Blake Harp in this 2016 Facebook post is pictured in the far right behind Madison Cawthorn in a wheelchair. Harp is now Cawthorn's congressional chief of staff. © Facebook Blake Harp in this 2016 Facebook post is pictured in the far right behind Madison Cawthorn in a wheelchair. Harp is now Cawthorn's congressional chief of staff.

Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said it appeared Cawthorn was rewarding a friend who had no relevant experience by "overpaying using taxpayer dollars," a move he called unethical.

Members of Congress have wide latitude to hire and pay staffs, though there are limits on staff size and pay.

"At one level, the Cawthorn chief of staff pay is on the low side for the position," Orstein said. "But the vast majority of chiefs have a lot of experience, usually on the Hill, sometimes running campaigns. This one does not fit any usual category, and looks quite suspicious."

Top staffer salaries for N.C. Congress members

Here are salaries of seven chiefs of staff for North Carolina members of Congress. Note: salaries are extrapolated from the first quarter pay of this year. In some cases, staff members may receive more or less pay for the year. 

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-11th (Western North Carolina)

William Blake Harp: $127,111.08. No government experience. No other experience listed on Linkedin. Fireworks retailer.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th

Carson Middleton: $159,377.72. Eleven years in the House, including as chief of staff, legislative director and senior legislative assistant. Majority staff for Tom Lantos Huma Rights Commission. Studied at Penn State and American University.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-10th

Jeffrey Butler: $165,000. Eleven years in the House, including four as chief of staff. Student clerk at U.S. Attorney's Office for Eastern District of N.C. Studied at N.C. State.

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-2nd

Matthew Lee: $122,222.24. Six years experience in House as chief of staff, legislative director and senior legislative assistant. 

Rep. Kathy Manning, D-6th

Sarah Curtis: $147,777.76. Seven years in the House, including six and a half as deputy chief of staff. Mayo Clinic director of federal policy and engagement. Master's degree from George Washington University.

Rep. David Price, D-4th

Justin Wein: $152,913.92. Holds two positions: chief of staff and assistant to Price on the Appropriations Committee. Seventeen years experience, including deputy chief of staff and House Democracy Partnership staff member. Master's degree from George Washington University.

Rep. Alma Adams, D-12th

John Christie: $124,222.24. Incudes pay as interim chief of staff. Seven years experience, ranging from a legal intern to legislative director.

George “G.K.” Butterfield Jr., D-1st

Kyle Parker: $132,000. Eleven years experience in the House, including legislative director, senior policy advisor and legislative assistant. U.S. State Department intern. Master's degree from University of Pittsburgh.

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Madison Cawthorn lead staffer makes $127,000 despite no experience, Republican source says

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