Editorial: Campaign funds can cover legislative expenses

Oregon law is clear. Money donated to a candidate must be used to finance a campaign. If money is left over after the election, it must be given to another campaign, donated to a charitable organization or used by the elected public official to help pay the expenses incurred as a result of holding public office.

In other words, a legislator can use leftover campaign money to pay for mileage between Bend and Salem during the legislative session; he may not use it to buy his wife dinner and roses on their anniversary. And while most lawmakers do not spend campaign funds on expenses, some do.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, is among them. According to a recent article in The Oregonian newspaper, Ferrioli spent about $10,000 in campaign funds on mileage during the legislative session that ended earlier this month — which, at the state’s 56-cent reimbursement rate, amounts to about 10 round trips home from January to mid July. Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, spent nearly $8,000 on mileage and lodging.

Meanwhile, both senators collected $123 per day from the state while the Legislature was meeting to cover expenses. That money, unlike leftover campaign funds, can be spent at the lawmaker’s discretion, for anything he or she wants.

It’s the restriction on how campaign contributions are spent that makes spending them on expenses attractive, in fact. Lawmakers are not obligated, either legally or in any other way, to put leftover funds into another campaign or to give them to charity. Donors who are unhappy with the way their money is spent can refuse to donate again, after all — financial support of a candidate is completely voluntary. If enough donors are unhappy, the candidate will get the message and no doubt end the practice.

We haven’t heard a great outcry, either from lawmakers or those who support them, to change the law. The state keeps close tabs on how campaign funds are spent, for one thing. And, lawmakers make precious little while in Salem, and expense money that may be spent as needed helps stretch their $21,612 annual legislative salary a bit further.