State elections officials said it is not unusual for candidates to call asking if they can charge their campaigns for the clothing they wear in the course of running for office. They are told that it is not illegal.
Whether it is a wise public relations move is another matter.
Del. Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) drew attention in 2009 for using campaign funds for personal items, including a YMCA membership.
State Board of Elections officials reviewed his spending but concluded there was no violation of the law after the attorney general’s office advised them in writing that the law “does not prohibit the personal use of campaign contributions by candidates or office holders unless or until” they disband their committees.
Even so, it appears to be more the exception than the rule that Virginia politicians use political funds to fill their closets.
U.S. Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has had one clothing expense paid for with campaign funds — $708 at Nordstrom — since he ran for governor in 2004.
State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), charged a $794 tuxedo from Franco’s Fine Clothier to his campaign account in early 2009 but refunded his campaign in mid-2010. McEachin said he had meant to pay personally for the tuxedo, which he was buying for an Urban League dinner, but accidentally pulled out his campaign credit card. He said he made the refund after discovering the error.
At least a handful of other Virginia candidates have billed their campaigns for relatively modest clothing or tailoring services.
The man Bob McDonnell defeated in 2009, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) charged $42 at Macy’s, $38 in Kohl’s and $84 at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the course of his campaign. All of the purchases were identified on his reports as clothing. He also billed his campaign for more than $500 in dry cleaning charges while he was on the campaign trail.
Deeds said he couldn’t recall what any of the clothing purchases were for, but said they were small and probably related to the difficulties of the hectic campaign pace.
“You’re out and you spill coffee on a necktie in the morning and you have big things to do the rest of the day,” he said, speaking hypothetically. “You’ve got to go out and buy a new necktie.”
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s gubernatorial campaign spent $182 at Macy’s in May after the Republican showed up to shoot a TV commercial with two blue shirts.
“[W]e needed the AG in various color shirts, so a staffer went to Macy’s and purchased what was needed,” campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix said via e-mail. “As a practice, the AG does not believe [in using] nor use campaign funds for personal use.”