REQUESTED BY: Spencer W. Morrissey and the Morrissey for Legislature Committee
QUESTION: Can the funds of a candidate committee be used to purchase a computer and a desk for the computer?
Yes, if the purchases are to be used for campaign purposes.
In 1988 the Morrissey for Legislature Committee was established and the candidate was elected to the legislature. In 1992 the candidate unsuccessfully sought reelection. At the end of the 1992 campaign the committee did not dissolve. In 1994 the committee purchased a computer and desk for the computer. These purchases were shown on the committee's 1994 Annual Campaign Statement. According to the committee, the purchases were made "in anticipation of running for election as Senator in the 1st Legislative District in 1996 or 2000." The committee takes the position that "[w]ith a multi-media computer and a fax/modem a candidate can run a sophisticated campaign from their home at a much lower cost than current campaign averages."
Section 49-1446.01 states in part 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..." Section 49-1419 defines the term expenditure as "a payment...in assistance of, or opposition to, the nomination or election of a candidate..." The term candidate as defined in section 49-1409 includes "an individual...who receives a contribution or makes an expenditure... with a view to bringing about the individual's nomination or election to an elective office..."
In Advisory Opinion #60 the Commission stated that the use of campaign funds must be reasonably related to campaigning. In Advisory Opinion #86 the Commission stated that "one must look to the purpose of an expenditure to determine whether it may be made with campaign funds." Both of these concepts were restated by the Commission in Advisory Opinion #105.
The stated purpose of the use of the campaign funds is to run a campaign. That is, to support the nomination or election of a candidate. Under the circumstances described, the individual is a candidate and the transfer of campaign funds for a computer and a desk is an expenditure as defined. Therefore, the purchases are a permissible use of campaign funds.
Two other issues need to be addressed.
First, the computer and the desk become the property of the campaign committee. At the time of the dissolution of the committee, the assets of the committee must be disposed of in accordance with section 49-1466 and Commission Rule 4 (Title 4, Chapter 4) entitled Rules and Regulations for Dissolution of Committees. Section 003.04 of Rule 4 provides as follows:
Any physical asset of a dissolving committee must be: a) sold at a reasonable price with the proceeds being transferred as set forth in Section 003.03; b) donated to a candidate or political party committee; or c) donated to a tax exempt charitable institution. In the case of a candidate committee, the physical asset(s) of the committee may be retained by the candidate if the candidate's contributions to the committee exceed the reasonable value of the asset(s) retained. The physical assets of the committee may otherwise be purchased by the candidate. If the candidate purchases or otherwise retains a physical asset of the committee, he or she shall provide to the Commission on request, documentation as to the reasonable value of the physical asset and the amount of the candidate's contributions to the committee.
The remaining cash of a dissolving committee may be transferred to a candidate committee, a political party committee, the Campaign Finance Limitation Act Cash Fund, the State of Nebraska or any agency thereof or a fund of any political subdivision of the State subject to the Nebraska Budget Act, or to any or all of the contributors, provided that no contributor shall receive more than he or she contributed. See section 49-1466 and section 003.03 of Rule 4.
Second, the purchase of a computer for personal use is not a permissible use of campaign funds. That is, it is not a transfer of funds in support of the nomination or election of a candidate. The personal use of the computer could constitute evidence of a violation of the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act.
See Advisory Opinions #88 and 146 in which the Commission took the position
that the "clear intent behind section 49-1446.02 of the Accountability Act is to prohibit the personal use of campaign funds".