July 21st, 2011 8:38 am | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Politics, Housing, Legislature

Kitzhaber Uses Campaign Funds for Home Security System

lede_kitzhaber_3720Former Gov. John Kitzhaber - leahnash.com

Oregon's notoriously lax campaign finance laws mean that although candidates and elected officials cannot accept gifts worth more than $50, they are allowed spend campaign funds on virtually anything. But an expenditure this week by normally frugal Gov. John Kitzhaber was unusual even by Oregon pols' free-spending standards.

On July 15, Kitzhaber reported using nearly $7,400 in leftover campaign funds to purchase a home security system. 

Here's what the elections division's 2010 Campaign Finance Manual says on the subject:

"A candidate who is an office holder may use campaign funds for expenses incurred as an office holder if directly related to an office holder’s official duties."

Oregon law gives some additional guidance. Elected officials may use campaign money "to defray any expenses incurred in connection with the recipient’s duties as a holder of public office," Oregon statute says.

As governor, Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician, earns a salary of about $94,000 and is entitled to live in a state-owned residence, Mahonia Hall, and gets full-time protection from an Oregon State Police security detail. A spokesman for Kitzhaber, Amy Wojcicki, explains the governor used $7,400 of his remaining campaign funds to purchase a security system for the Portland home of his ex-wife, Sharon LaCroix, with whom their son often stays.

 "As a result of his position, the Governor’s [politcal action committee] purchased a security system at his former wife’s home to ensure the safety of his family when they are not with the Governor," Wojcicki told WW.

But public interest lawyer Dan Meek, who has long advocated for stricter campaign finance laws, including authoring two state-wide ballot measures on the subject, says while the expenditure may be legal, it is inappropriate. Here's Meek's take on the subject:

In other states, use of campaign funds to install a security system at an officeholder's home is a felony. The administrator of Vernon, California, this year pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 (plus repayment of the campaign funds) and put on probation for 3 years. In 2008 a Texas state representative was fined $10,600 for personal use of campagn funds, including payments for a home security system. The Federal Elections Commission in 2009, however, approved using money from a congressional campaign to pay for a security system at the home of Rep. Elton Gallegly in California, after he documented threats to himself and his wife "stemming from your role as a member of Congress and a candidate." In Oregon, the legal question is whether a home security system at a former wife's home is an expense "incurred in connection with the recipient's duties as a holder of public office." ORS 260.407(1)(a)(A). I assume that the Governor's son lives at that home some or most of the time. If there is an indication of a threat to family safety, because the Governor's son and former wife live there, then the expenditure would likely be considered legal. At least one Oregon city, Eugene, has a practice of using public funds to pay for security systems at the homes of elected officials, such as the mayor. I personally believe that it should be illegal to spend campaign money for any purpose other than to persuade voters. If a home security system is a legitimate expense of public office, it should be paid for with public funds. Using campaign funds for purposes other than persuading voters makes candidates and officeholders dependent upon private contributors--not only for money to persuade voters but also for money to pay for home security and, in the case of a legislator, even motel rooms and bar tabs.
Wojcicki takes issue with Meek's view. "It is absolutely appropriate for [Kitzhaber] to ensure the safety of his family, if he were not Governor this expense would not have been necessary," she says.
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