Dozens of members of Congress have used recent campaign contributions for a variety of personal expenses, including trips to Hawaii, Bermuda and China, salaries for relatives and staff members, new cars, theater tickets and designer dresses for their wives, according to an article published yesterday in The New Republic.
Based on an examination of 1981 Federal Election Commission reports by 417 House members who are either running for reelection or retiring, the article names 34 as having put thousands of dollars of surplus donations to questionable use.
While public attention has focused on the groups who contribute to campaigns and their reasons for doing so, the authors say, few have examined how that money is actually spent. They called this "a new system under which members may use their campaign treasuries as old-fashioned slush funds, often for their own financial benefit."
This apparently widespread use of campaign money for personal travel and entertainment may be a violation of the House code of conduct, which says that members "shall convert no campaign funds to personal use" beyond what is spent for reelection expenses.
The magazine article was written by Bill Hogan, Diane Kiesel and Alan Green, who work for The City Desk, a Washington bureau for regional magazines.
The article says that Rep. Robert Badham (R-Calif.) spent nearly $15,000 in campaign funds on travel last year, primarily for his wife to fly between California and Washington. Badham also spent $4,488 on a trip to Germany, $300 for house-sitters and more than $720 toward his wife's expenses on trips to Panama, the Far East and Africa, it said.
The third-term Republican also spent $403 on a silverware set and $1,467 on three designer dresses for his wife, the magazine said. Badham told the magazine the expenses were both modest and campaign-related.
According to the article, Rep. Sam Hall Jr. (D-Tex.), who had no opposition in 1980, spent $12,696 last year for campaign meals, travel, gifts and entertainment--some of it in Hong Kong. Hall also spent $384 for a stereo cassette and $245 on wedding gifts. A spokesman said the expenses were "perfectly legitimate" and had been approved by the FEC.
House incumbents had more than $23.5 million in surplus donations at the end of 1981, and several used the money to put spouses and staffers on the campaign payroll.
Rep. Ken Holland (D-S.C.), who is not running for reelection, paid his wife $13,211 last year for campaign bookkeeping and fund-raising, the article said.
"No one has quicker access to the candidate than she does," Holland said jokingly. Holland said his wife's duties were extensive, cost less than hiring an outsider and that the House clerk had approved the practice.
The article said that Rep. John Erlenborn (R-Ill.) spent $19,941 last year with an Illinois advertising firm, but did not disclose that the firm is run by his executive assistant. Erlenborn said he had obeyed the disclosure law and that his aide's role was well known in his district.
An aide to Rep. Cecil Heftel (D-Hawaii), who reportedly spent $1,577 on macadamia nuts to give his House colleagues, said this was "to promote goodwill for the people of Hawaii."
A spokesman said that Rep. Joseph Addabbo (D-N.Y.) is still spending $640 a month in campaign funds to lease a Cadillac with a portable television because Addabbo has been campaigning since "the morning after the last election."
Rep. Gillis Long (D-La.), unopposed in 1980, spent $11,405 for a new car and $5,195 for insurance and expenses, while Rep. Gene Taylor (R-Mo.) paid his own auto dealership $4,885 last year to lease a campaign car, the article said.
Former minority leader John Rhodes (R-Ariz.) used $11,272 in campaign funds to pay for two oil portraits of himself, while Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.) spent $4,051 to ship his family's furniture across the country, according to the article. Aides said both expenditures were approved by House officials.
The article also said that Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) used $7,150 to throw two parties for Mississippians at the Reagan inauguration; Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) spent $1,782 on his wife and himself for a speaking trip to Hawaii, and Rep. Bill Nichols (D-Ala.) spent $380 for a maid, a cook and theater tickets to entertain campaign volunteers visiting his home.