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To Be (Paid)? Or Not to Be? Part II
September 25, 2013
about unpaid internships before

Though we’ve talked about unpaid internships before, it was done in a much broader sense. But the truth is nowhere is this debate more relevant than in government – specifically congress – where barely a third of US Senators pay their interns. Here’s a look at why this is and a view of the prevailing culture on the Hill so you can better understand what to expect when you start your congressional internship.

The Rules There Don’t Apply Here

Companies like Conde Nast and Fox Searchlight got into a bit of legal trouble for not paying their interns. The first thing you should probably do is forget about that. Congress exempts itself from normal intern rules under the Congressional Accountability Act, which basically says, “We make the laws.” That’s not to say that some senators and representatives don’t pay their interns. Some do. It just means that they are far and few between. If you want to see just how far that is, look no further than the way most senate offices categorize their internship programs. They put them under the “service” or “constituent service” sections, meaning internship opportunities are considered a favor your elected officials are doing for you. Nice, right? For example, Joe Manchin, a senator from West Virginia, has information on how to intern for him under the category of “Help From Joe.”  It should just be called “Help From [ Your Name Here]. It would be far more accurate.

So, Who Does Pay?

Okay, this is a simple fact: the vast majority of senators who do pay their interns are Republicans. Of the 35 senators who pay, only 11 are Democrats, which means almost 80 percent of the blue team requires volunteer participation. This is not saying that one party is better than the other, just stating simple math. It’s also important to note that nearly 70 senators from both parties ask their interns to perform a public service for free every summer. So, one way or the other, you’re going to be doing some work for free. But here’s a quick look at some of the senators who actually do pay out. Rates vary from office to office.

  • Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul offer academic credit or a stipend
  • Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, will pay in the summer but not the fall or spring
  • North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, both Republicans, will pay in the fall or spring but not the summer
  • Kansas Republican Pat Roberts will pay when hosting two interns, but not more
  • Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey offers two endowed internships, while the rest of his interns are volunteers
  • Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi only pays interns from Mississippi colleges
  • Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, and Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat, publicize their rates of $1,600 and $1,500 per month, respectively.

A number of senators, such as Enzi and Begich above, pay handsomely. But finding and getting those internships can be very competitive.

The Times, They Are a Changin’

As the intern debate rages on, more scrutiny is being made of the operations on the Hill, as well as the Department of Labor. As the high profile cases of intern incidents gain more press, it will be interesting to see what will become of the Capitol’s interns. As of this moment, however, many senators are set on keeping their public servants for free. And though it might be up to our leaders to decide how they ultimately see their interns, it’s up to you to decide how well you see yourself. All you can do is apply yourself, work hard, be prepared and let the chips fall where they may. And hopefully, one day those chips will pay off. Literally.