U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a Republican from Panama City, gave $26,000 in taxpayer money for bonuses to 16 of his staffers as he told the Panama City newspaper that the federal government is “spending money we don’t have.” (Photo courtesy of Steve Southerland.)

By Steve Miller
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a Republican from Panama City, in January complained that the profligate spending in Washington was at the heart of the country’s financial woes.

“We have a mountain of deficit and debt and we are spending money we don’t have,” the Republican lawmaker said in an interview with The News Herald in Panama City.

What he didn’t mention was that just weeks before, he had doled out $26,000 in taxpayer money for bonuses to 16 of his staffers, records show. The funds were given in allotments of between $1,000 and $2,500 and reported on Southerland’s fourth quarter financial filings.

In 2011, records show he paid no year-end bonuses.

Southerland was elected to a second term in November with 53 percent of the vote.

His campaign platform advocated fiscal restraint in Washington, D.C., in line with his party colleagues. In a statement on his campaign website, Southerland said: “For years, both Democrat and Republican politicians contributed to America’s crippling national debt. With little concern for our children and grandchildren, both parties became addicted to wasteful Washington spending. Well, times have finally changed.”

In a press release in February, Southerland decried the looming sequester, claiming that the cuts would “blindly slash $85 billion in defense and domestic programs beginning on March 1st.”

“The President’s failure to lead on spending reform has left the House of Representatives without a willing partner in our fight to restore fiscal sanity,” he said.

Southerland’s camp declined to address the bonus payments directly. His office offered a statement that reads in part:

Rep. Southerland’s focus is on restoring fiscal sanity in Washington and doing his job for the people of North Florida, not on misleading political attacks. The truth is he voted against the President’s Sequestration despite threats of a Presidential veto and the Senate’s months-long refusal to cooperate on spending cuts. He’s practiced the same fiscal discipline he preaches, reducing his office budget by 20% from before he took office and operating with a staff that is nearly a third smaller than House rules allow.

Southerland defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Allen Boyd in 2010 to take office. Boyd paid staffers $995,555 in 2010 his last full year in office. Southerland’s payroll in 2012 was $886,344.