REQUESTED BY: The Honorable Lee Rupp, State Senator District #22
QUESTION: May a state senator expend campaign funds for the following purposes: 1. to pay for subscriptions to newspapers published within the candidate's legislative district; 2. to pay the candidate's unreimbursed mileage, at the rate of 21 cents per mile, for trips connected with speaking engagements, radio shows, and general constituent service.
Yes. See Analysis.
The permissible use of political campaign funds is governed by sections 49-1419 and 49-1446.01 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes. Additionally, section 49-1446.02 specifies several uses of campaign funds which are prohibited under the law.
Section 49-1446.01 provides that:
No committee, other than a political party committee, may expend or transfer funds except to make an expenditure, as defined in subsection (1), (2), or (3) of section 49-1419, or as provided in this section.
In section 49-1419, "expentiture" is defined as a payment in assistance of or in opposition to the nomination or election of a candidate. Therefore, in order to qualify as a permissible campaign expenditure under section 49-1419, the use of campaign funds must be for the purpose of assisting or opposing the nomination or election of a candidate. As an elected office-holder, you are considered to be a candidate for reelection for purposes of the Accountability Act, (see: 49-1409 R.R.S., 1943) and thus a campaign fund expenditure made to assist in your nomination or reelection would generally be permissible under the Act.
Section 49-1446.01 of the Accountability Act provides that a committee may:
"(1) make expenditures or transfer funds after any election for . . . (c) obtaining public input and opinion;" and for "(g) meals, lodging, and travel by an officeholder related to his or her candidacy and for members of the immediate family of the officeholder when involved in activities related to his or her candidacy . . .".
The Legislature adopted section 49-1446.01 in LB134 in the 1981 session. During floor debate, Senator Beutler said:
"so I know that Senator Haberman and some others outstate were troubled by whether going out to give a speech to particular Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club about political matters was covered or not covered and we are saying explicitly in this amendment what I think would have been said had this, even without this amendment, that those types of expenditures are acceptable campaign expenditures."
Floor debate on LB134, April 29, 1981, at page 4076.
As we noted in Advisory Opinion No. 60, R.R.S. 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."
And in Advisory Opinion #80 we said, ". . . any generally accepted means of obtaining public input and opinion may be used after an election and paid for with campaign committee funds."
Based on the above-cited statutes and opinions, one must look to the purpose of an expenditure to determine whether it may be made with campaign funds. Based on the information you have provided, it is the opinion of the Commission that:
payment for subscriptions to newspapers published within a state senator's district would be permissible campaign expenditures if the purpose is to obtain public input and opinion;
2. payment of mileage at 21 cents per mile for travel within an incumbent's district which is not otherwise reimbursed would be permissible as long as it is travel related to his or her candidacy, as required by section 49-1446.01(g).
Finally, elected officeholders are encouraged to review the statutes cited in this opinion concerning authorized and prohibited campaign expenditures.