Political and Election Law: Times Record News: TEC counsel details how candidates can spend campaign funds

By Trish Choate, For Times Record News

State Sen. Craig Estes’ opponent regularly accuses him of tapping campaign donations to fund a lavish lifestyle, including a $3,700 a month condo leased year round in Austin.

Texas ethics rules reveal ample leeway for lawmakers’ use of donations to pay expenses as long as they’re not for personal costs.

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Ian Steusloff, TEC general counsel, said personal use “primarily furthers individual or family purposes not connected with campaign or officeholders’ duties or activities.

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Estes paid a 2008 fine of $17,300 for ethics violates with campaign contributions. The TEC found errors in reporting of various items and in designating spending personal funds for political purposes. Estes has said they were clerical errors.

Ross Fischer, a campaign finance attorney for The Gober Group, served five years as a TEC commissioner, including one year as commission chairman.

“Historically the Ethics Commission has provided a lot of latitude when it comes to using campaign funds,” Fischer said, speaking generally. “And if an officeholder or candidate is relying on advice issued by the Ethics Commission, they can’t get in trouble for that conduct.”

Fallon contends Estes has a penchant for the good life but no money of his own to fund it. So he uses campaign donations to close the gap, Fallon contends.
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