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Journal takes a look at lawmakers’ intriguing campaign-related expenses
Is it cool for a state lawmaker to spend political campaign funds on a parking ticket?
What’s your reaction to a state lawmaker paying a $77 tab for wine and cheese at an airport–with campaign cash?
Those are questions raised by Tom Cole’s UpFront column today in which the Albuquerque Journal reporter examines how state lawmakers are spending campaign funds.
The two examples above are some of the more unusual expenditures Cole found in campaign finance reports that cover the period from Nov. 29, 2008 to May 4, 2009.
Here’s an excerpt from the column:
The report of Rep. Dianne Miller Hamilton, R-Silver City, listed a $26 expenditure for cocktails at El Paso International Airport on Dec. 11 and a $77 expense for wine at a Dallas airport later that day.
Hamilton said the expenses were incurred while she was flying to Virginia to attend the christening of the USS New Mexico, a nuclear submarine.
The representative said the Legislative Council Service and the Secretary of State’s Office had agreed she could use campaign funds to finance the trip since she would be representing the state.
Hamilton said the tab at the El Paso airport was for lunch and margaritas for her and the person who took her to the airport.
Cole also found that Democratic state Rep. Andrew Barreras of Tomé, about 25 miles south of Albuquerque, listed nearly $1,800 in expenditures for 24 meals.
The report listed a $200 meal at a Texas Roadhouse in Albuquerque, as well as tabs of $177.08, $176.97, $154.57 and $148.30 at other Albuquerque restaurants.
Barreras told Cole that all the meals were related to political or legislative business but that he didn’t have records showing the specific purposes of the meals.
“I guess I need to be a little clearer on what I’m doing,” he said. “I need to just keep better records.”
All told, Cole looked through contributions to 110 state lawmakers who filed reports, finding more than $211,000. (Two lawmakers haven’t filed their reports.) The lawmakers’ expenses totaled more than $476,000. Legislators can spend more than they collect in contributions because of money leftover from their 2008 campaigns.
Under state law, legislators aren’t limited to spending political donations on campaign expenses, Cole writes.
They also can spend the money on expenses “reasonably related to performing the duties” of their offices, charitable donations and contributions to political parties and candidates for public office, he adds.
Cole also tells us who spent the most — state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Egolf. Egolf spent $31,592 in the period covered by the May report, more than any other legislator.
His biggest expenses were $13,193 for a constituent mailing and $4,503 for computer equipment, Cole writes.
Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, was No. 2 in spending, with $27,000, $17,000 of which was spent on a poll of Albuquerque voters.