OPINION NUMBER –088

ADOPTED – 1986/03/21

SUBJECT - Expenditure of Campaign Funds

REQUESTED BY: The Honorable Lee Rupp, State Senator, District #22

QUESTION: May a State Senator expend campaign funds to pay membership fees to service organizations located within the Senator's district?

CONCLUSION

Yes. See Analysis.

ANALYSIS

In Opinion #86 we advised you that, as an elected officeholder, you are considered to be a candidate for re-election for purposes of the Accountability Act, and that a campaign fund expenditure made to assist in your nomination or re-election would generally be permissible under the act.

The clearest expressions of legislative intent regarding permissible campaign expenditures in Nebraska appear in the committee hearing and floor debates on LB134, which amended the Accountability Act in 1981 and concerned both permissible and prohibited campaign expenditures. In explaining the bill on the first day of floor debate, Senator Don Wesely, a principal sponsor, said this:

". . . I would say things like campaign uses for Christmas cards and paying to go speak to constituents and perhaps even membership in some organizations in your district. That seems to me to be an acceptable use of the campaign funds because it really, in a sense is tied to a campaign, and . . . the bill tries to say that if you can identify a use of your campaign funds that would further your candidacy . . . and if it was clear that the use that you have in mind would further your electability and perhaps your candidacy, . . chances are it would be covered." {emphasis added} floor debate on LB134, April 10, 1981,p.3304.

The State of Massachusetts has addressed this question in its campaign finance rules, at 970 CMR Section 2.06(3)(c). They provide under allowed expenditures:

"Memberships for the candidate in organizations and associations provided that the candidate would not be participating in the particular organization or association but for his interest in it enhancing his political stature. This shall not be construed to permit that payment of memberships in professional organizations other than those specifically designed for political candidates." {emphasis added}

This "but for" test restricts the payment of membership fees to only those clearly made for the purpose of furthering one's candidacy. It also prohibits payment of professional association fees, such as one's bar or medical association dues. Because the Massachusetts rules also prohibit personal use of campaign funds, payment of membership fees for one's country club for example, or health club would be prohibited.

In NADC Opinion #60, we said that the intent behind sections 49-1446.01 to 49-1446.03 was to restrict the use of campaign funds to activities which are "reasonably related to campaigning and to prohibit their conversion to other uses." Certainly, the clear intent behind section 49-1446.02 of the Accountability Act is to prohibit the personal use of campaign funds. Before the Miscellaneous Subjects Committee Senator Beutler, a principal sponsor of LB134 said,

"All of the changes are really aimed at one central goal, and that is to take the first steps towards defining what the difference is between campaign uses and personal uses." Testimony of January 30, 1981.

With regard to payment of membership fees to service organizations or clubs within your district, the Commission believes such expenditures are permissible under certain circumstances. First, payment of such fees must serve a primarily political or campaign purpose, and not the personal purposes of the candidate, his family, or others. Generally this would mean that the payment must be made for the purpose of furthering one's candidacy.

Second, the payment must be for membership in an organization that the candidate would not join but for his or her interest in enhancing his or her candidacy.

Third, expenditures to pay membership fees to professional organizations, (such as a bar or medical association) other than those specifically designed for political candidates, are not permissible campaign expenditures, as such payments would be considered for personal rather than political purposes.

Finally, campaign expenditures for membership fees paid to organizations in the candidate's district must be reported as required under section 49-1455 of the Accountability Act.

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines "service club" as a club of business or professional men or women organized for their common benefit and active in community service. This opinion applies to organizations matching this definition.