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Lawmakers Allowed To Use Campaign Contributions On Personal Expenses

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Whether it is flowers, dinners or cars, politicans can spend campaign money on anything they want as long as they report it. WRAL found cases where

state lawmakers

used contributions for living expenses even though taxpayers already pay for it.

On top of their part-time salary, every North Carolina lawmaker gets $104 a day for living expenses, plus some money for travel. In this year's 173-day session that amounted to about $20,000, which is tax-free.

"One could reasonably assume they're already getting money to pay for a lot of these expenses. Some of them, I guess, don't think that's enough," said Chris Heagarty, executive director of the Center for Voter Education.

In a random sampling of recent campaign finance reports, WRAL found some lawmakers find other ways to pay those expenses. Instead of his per diem, Democratic House Speaker Jim Black used more than $5,000 of campaign money to pay rent at his Raleigh apartment. Black also frequently bought gas with his campaign contributions.

Democratic House member Michael Decker's report spent thousands of campaign dollars to pay for lodging at a Red Roof Inn in Raleigh. He bought gas and a plane ticket to Atlanta, where he spent more than $8,200 in campaign contributions to buy a used van.

"What we're seeing here is perfectly legal even if some people find it outrageous," Heagarty said.

Heagarty said, at least, the lawmakers are upfront about their expenses while others try to hide.

"Who knows what they spent it on," he said.

Decker said serving as a lawmaker is expensive and he will likely continue to use campaign money for expenses. Republican Speaker Richard Morgan would not talk about his colleagues, but he said he will not use campaign dollars for living expenses because it is not the right thing to do.

"I just think it's appropriate to be prudent with those campaign dollars," he said.

"I think it's sad that sometimes people pocket the expense money and then use other people's money, campaign money, to pay expenses. I can't imagine a lot of contributors would be happy about that," Heagarty said.

No one from Black's campaign was available to comment on WRAL's story. Ultimately, the campaign finance laws lay out the information for voters and let them decide.