Living the good life with campaign dollars?

The Dallas Morning News has an interesting analysis of the way Dallas-area legislators are spending some of their campaign funds. The rules allow legislators to pay for the expenses of holding office with campaign dollars. This is completely understandable given the need to supplement legislative staff, assist with travel expenses, and help with the costs of living in Austin during the session.

However, it appears that some legislators are doing more than tending to the bare necessities and travel needs associated with public service. One senator used campaign money for lease payments on a Mercedes Benz and  stays at the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach, the Venetian in Las Vegas, the Hay-Adams in Washington DC. It’s not clear what state business the Senator was attending to in these locations. However, I know that there are less expensive lodging options. For example, rooms at the Hay-Adams appear to start at just over $400 a night. That’s about double the maximum reimbursement allowed under state rules when I travel (not that there are enough funds to pay that amount).

Donor money is paying for some of the same things that bribes traditionally would. Special interest groups are giving big money to legislators that face little competition in the next election and surely understand that this money can be converted into supporting an improved lifestyle for the legislator. The flow cash may be less direct than a bribe, but the sense of obligation that is created is the same.

What’s the solution to dealing with the expenses of serving in the Texas Legislature? Without some help it is be hard for Texans of ordinary means to manage the expenses of serving in the Legislature. Should we build dorms for members? How about the kind of bureaucratic red tape and dollar restrictions state employees face?

If you are not familiar with the way things work around the Capitol and you’re worried about your own representative, please don’t fret. The food supply in parts of Austin this time of year is bountiful and the chances that your legislator or their staff will starve are slim. The greater danger is being run over by the caterer’s little carts as they zip around the Capitol trying to deliver all that food.

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