Elected officials who serve years in office — and who have gone through several elections — usually amass a large amount of donations to fill their political war chest.
Ironically, those with the largest amount of cash on hand rarely face significant challenges for re-election. So what do they do with all the money in the campaign treasury?
Washington sate law says they can donate cash to other candidates or charity. In addition they can spend the money for what the law terms “public office-related expenses.”
An Associated Press examination of campaign fund shows politicians take a broad view of office-related expenses.
Records show that since the beginning of 2007, Republican Rep. Mike Armstrong of Wenatchee has pulled $7,000 in campaign cash to buy clothing. Democratic State Auditor Brian Sonntag used campaign money to buy more than $1,000 in Mariners tickets he donated to charity, and Joe McDermott, a Democratic member of the King County Council, used $5,600 to pay for his tuition at Harvard, according to AP.
Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, reported spending $1,250 on an iPad in 2011, even though the top model costs only $700, AP reported. Ross followed that up with the purchase of another iPad for $900 just six months later. In 2010, Ross spent more than $1,800 for a new computer for what he described as his home office.
And Lt. Gov. Brad Owen spent $760 from his surplus campaign funds account at a liquor store, reporting the items were for various functions, dignitary gifts and attorney dinners. Owen said drinks were served at after-hours events for state staffers and at other functions at his home. He said all of it was linked to his work in the office, adding he cannot purchase alcohol with state money.
The AP cited many other examples, including car repair.
Clothing, tuition, alcohol, iPads, tickets and car repairs are expenses that raise eyebrows, but would likely stand up to a challenge given the nebulous wording of the law.
Some would like to see the rules written more narrowly and have more aggressive enforcement by the Public Disclosure Commission.
While we do not condone abuses of campaign spending rules, we don’t see a significant public benefit to taking a strict accounting of these expenses.
This isn’t about spending tax dollars, it’s about spending campaign contributions.
The people now have the power to solve any serious problems.
The expenses are public record, which means those who donate can see how their contributions are being spent and election opponents can make the spending decision an issue in the campaign.
If the public isn’t pleased with how candidates opt to spend campaign cash, the people have the option to vote them out of office or to stop making donations.