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:
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.