In his latest campaign expenditure report, Searcy police chief and candidate for state representative Kyle Osborne reported a $400 expense for “rent.” The address given leads to an apartment complex in Searcy.
State ethics laws regarding the use of campaign funds for explicitly personal reasons are fairly clear — it’s a no no. However, the ethics commission reserves the right to determine whether or not expenses are for “personal use” or for campaign use.
The following paragraph is included in the ethics commission’s guidelines for campaign expenditures under Section 209, “Personal Expenses – Prohibited Uses:”
(c) Mortgage, Rent and Utility Payments – This includes any payments with respect to a personal residence of the candidate or his or her family, even if a portion of the residence is used by the campaign. It does not include (i) payments made by a candidate with respect to other buildings or offices or office space used solely for campaign purposes, such as the campaign’s headquarters, even if the candidate owns the space used, so long as the space is not the candidate’s personal residence and the campaign pays a fair market value for use of the space;
My interpretation of this law is fairly simple: campaign funds can be used for rent as long as the space is used exclusively for campaign purposes. If any part of the space is used for personal residence or purposes, campaign funds cannot be used.
I called the ethics commission and requested some clarification on these guidelines. They said my interpretation was more or less correct and that there are some circumstances in which using campaign funds for rent could be permissible, so long as the funds were not used for personal use. The determination as to whether or not an expenditure is for “personal use” or “campaign use” is an interpretation the Arkansas Ethics Commission reserves the right to make, per Section 210.
One possible explanation for the expense listed on Osborne’s report is that the apartment is being used to house campaign workers. Osborne has hired the Markham Group (he paid them $3,800 last month) out of Little Rock to run his campaign. Perhaps he is paying for an apartment for them to sleep in and stage their campaign out of. This would be somewhat of a gray area and the ethics commission would have to make a ruling about whether or not this qualified as “personal use” or “campaign use.”
If the funds were being used for a campaign office or for official campaign purposes, we might expect to see the expenses recur on Osborne’s monthly filings — he has been campaigning and reporting campaign expenses for several months. But we do not. Unless I am missing something, this rent expense is only shown on the September report.