Press Editorial

September 11, 2012

By Staff

Excess campaign funds need clarification

Some state lawmakers have been taken to task for using leftover campaign funds in ways that may or may not be within bounds. There’s the problem. The rules are too vague and open to interpretation, so it’s unclear if there was a violation. More definitive guidelines should be developed.

An Associated Press reporter combed through records detailing the way politicians spend money left over from campaigns. The law allows them to hold onto the cash for the next election or use it for “public office-related expenses.” The vast majority of expenses are above board, though some are borderline and strain credulity.

One Issaquah legislator, state Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, had used some funds to help with car maintenance. Anderson reportedly said he has logged miles on the vehicle for official business, so it was reasonable to use the funds for maintenance. But that same car likely also made trips to the grocery store or the movies. Where is the line between official and unofficial use?

Other lawmakers have bought clothes (which they say they wear only while conducting public business), alcohol (used during public functions and as gifts) and even Seattle Mariners tickets, according to the report. Other donations have correctly gone to nonprofit organizations — but some nonprofits happen to employ relatives of the lawmakers.

These are campaign funds, not tax dollars, being spent. But even with private money, legislators have a responsibility to spend it in ways that do not create conflicts of interest or the appearance of unethical behavior.

Toby Nixon, leader of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, is spearheading legislation that would clear this up. State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, says he’ll sponsor the bill.

Hill should press on with the idea; it merits action. Other legislators should take note, and perhaps offer to co-sponsor the bill.

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