Video: ND House Votes Against Prohibition On Campaign Funds For Personal Use

This debate happened yesterday and I missed it (it’s been a busy week) but I thought it was worth highlighting today.

Rep. Ben Hanson (D-Fargo) introduced HB1253 to prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenditures. Because, believe it or not, state law doesn’t already prohibit that sort of thing.

In fact, North Dakota has very lax campaign finance laws. There are very few reporting requirements. Only contributions over $200 are reported, and there is no reporting of expenditures. One could argue that spending campaign funds on personal items wouldn’t be in the spirit of the law, but by the letter of the law there’s nothing really stopping candidates from doing it. There’s no specific prohibition, and even if there was there’s really no reporting mechanism by which we could detect if that sort of thing is being done.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]And Rep. Corey Mock (D-Doesn’t Live In His District) brought up a good point during the floor debate: What are the tax implications of a candidate spending campaign dollars on themselves? “Is that considered income and do they have to render income tax to the state and federal government?” he asked.[/mks_pullquote]

Jason Dockter (R-Bismarck) carried the bill to the floor with a “do not pass” recommendation for committee, and argued that there’s nothing untoward happening under the current system so why change it? Of course, since expenditures aren’t reported by the candidates, we have no idea how many politicians are spending campaign dollars on themselves.

And Rep. Corey Mock (D-Doesn’t Live In His District) brought up a good point during the floor debate: What are the tax implications of a candidate spending campaign dollars on themselves?

“Is that considered income and do they have to render income tax to the state and federal government?” he asked.

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think that if you’re taking in funds and using them for personal expenditures, that pretty much meets the government’s definition of income.

Tax considerations aside, though, it really doesn’t bother me if candidates use their campaign funds for personal things. Even if there was a prohibition on such a thing there would be a lot of ways to get around it. So rather than putting in place a prohibition, why not beef up the state’s campaign reporting laws?

We should require that every contribution get reported, as well as every expenditure, and candidates should have to file reports weekly with the Secretary of State’s office for display in their online database. That’s not a hardship in this digital age. Already candidates can file their reports electronically and have them appear immediately on the website.

If candidates disclose everything voters can review how campaign dollars are spent and calculate that into their decisions on who to vote for.

Put simply, I’d rather support a better-informed public than more restrictive laws on campaign activities.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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