REQUESTED BY: The Honorable Rod Johnson, State Senator, Room 804, State Capitol, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
QUESTION: May campaign funds be used to purchase office equipment which will be used in an officeholder's home or the home of his campaign committee's treasurer to solicit and respond to constituent opinion?
The request for advisory opinion, dated October 18, 1983, states that the Senator's campaign committee is considering purchasing a typewriter. The typewriter would either stay in the Senator's home in Harvard, Nebraska, or the home of his campaign treasurer. The request further states that he believes this to be a legitimate campaign expense because it would constantly be used to solicit and respond to constituent opinion.
Section 49-1446.01 prohibits the use of campaign funds except for campaign purposes, namely expenditures for goods, materials, services or facilities in assistance of, or in opposition to, the nomination or election of a candidate.
Section 49-1409 provides that an elected officeholder shall, if eligible, be considered to be a candidate for re-election.
Section 49-1446 (1) also specifically provides that campaign funds may be spent after an election for, among other matters, "obtaining public input and opinion."
Soliciting and responding to constituent opinion is a mixed concept. It is a legitimate function of an elected officeholder's governmental office as well as having a campaign purpose. If the typewriter were located and used in the Senator's Capitol office, such circumstances would be evidence of a violation of Section 49-1446.02(6) which prohibits the use of campaign funds to purchase or pay for office supplies, staff, or furnishings for the public office of the candidate. If it were used in his Capitol office but only to solicit campaign contributions or prepare what might be described as purely campaign literature, such circumstances would be evidence of a violation of Section 49-14,101(4), which prohibits the use of government property, i.e., the premises of his Capitol office, under a public official's care and control for a non-government purpose. See also Section 49-14,101(3) which prohibits the use of public office to obtain financial gain.
It is submitted that the legislative intent for Section 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. The typewriter remains the property of the Senator's campaign committee. If it is used other than incidently or to any material extent for purposes that are not reasonably related to past or future campaigning for public office, such circumstances could be evidence of a violation of Section 49-1446.01.