Reid will reimburse campaign after inquiry about gifts purchased from granddaughter

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will reimburse his campaign more than $16,000 after questions were raised about holiday gifts purchased from a company owned by his granddaughter.

Reid said in a statement Tuesday that he will refund the money, after the Federal Election Commission questioned him about the expense earlier this week.

"I thought it would be nice to give supporters and staff thank-you gifts that had a personal connection and a Searchlight (Nev.) connection, but I have decided to reimburse the campaign for the amount of the expenditure," Reid said.

Reid's statement was first reported by Jon Ralston.

The expenditure was brought to light this week when the FEC sent Reid’s campaign a letter saying its description of the purchase – “holiday gifts” – doesn’t meet the commission’s criteria.

Federal rules actually do allow for candidates to buy things from family members, provided they pay fair market value for the items.

In the case of the gifts, though, that value also matters. FEC rules state that such gifts must be of “nominal value.”

The total amount that Reid’s campaign spent on the gifts from his granddaughter’s jewelry company – Ryan Elisabeth – was $16,786. Reid's granddaughter is Ryan Elisabeth Reid.

The Washington Post has asked Reid’s campaign precisely what kind of gifts the money was used to purchase. The campaign has yet to respond to multiple inquiries.

Paul Ryan, an election lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, said “you’d need to buy a heck of a lot of gifts of ‘nominal’ value to spend $16,000."

“I’d consider anything over $25 or $30 to be pushing the limits of 'nominal value,’” Ryan said.

Other election lawyers place that threshold slightly higher – as much as $50 -- but noted that some campaigns will buy lots of ornaments or other trinkets for supporters.

Update 9:52 a.m.: An unnamed Reid aide told CNN that the gifts were "coasters, picture frames and other trinkets" valued around $50 each. The Reid campaign still has yet to respond to the Post's inquiries.

It’s not the first time Reid’s gifts have been at issue. The conservative group Citizens United in 2006 filed a complaint over thousands of dollars Reid had paid in holiday bonuses to employees of the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, where Reid lives.

Reid spent $600 on the holiday bonuses in 2002, $1,200 in 2004 and $1,500 in 2005.

As in this case, Reid opted to personally reimburse the money to his campaign in October 2006, after the press reported on it, and the FEC dismissed the complaint in February 2007.

Originally posted at 6:11 p.m. Tuesday.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
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