A campaign fine fit for the Guinness book

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There’s a slew of stories today about the biggest campaign fine in FPPC history: a $350K fine issued to State Senator Carole Migden (they’ll be meeting tomorrow afternoon to make it official).

What’d she do? You name it. Among the 89 campaign law violations: Using campaign funds for $16,000 in personal expenses, spending almost $150,000 on campaign credit cards without disclosing what she bought, and failing to report money spent and contributions received accurately or on time. All those rules are there for a reason – to make sure the public has all the info we need about the money flowing through the hands of our elected officials.

But what really caught my eye was that $16K spent for personal benefit. The section of the Political Reform Act that prohibits the use of campaign funds for personal use is, interestingly, the very law that’s been spotlighted in recent revelations about politicians using their campaign accounts as private piggy banks for fancy meals, shopping and travel around the world.

How did the commission determine what was legit and what wasn’t?  They don’t say, but they should think about letting us know.

One violation, for example, involved $2706 spent for personal benefit between January and June of 2005. Which were the improper expenditures? The $102 spent at Neiman Marcus for a ‘meeting’? The 305 dollar ‘travel expense’ paid to Polanco’s Towing Service in Migden’s hometown of San Francisco? Xm Satellite Radio for $410 billed as an ‘office expense’? With new regulations set to go into effect in July (that require politicians to explain the political, governmental or legislative purpose of a meal, gift or out-of-state travel) a window into how the Commission concluded some expenditures were proper and some not could help candidates (and watchdogs) in the future.

Consumer Watchdog
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