Regional News

Ex-lawmakers want to eliminate surplus accounts

By Associated Press
Sep 04, 2012

Two former members of the state Legislature said Tuesday it is time for lawmakers to eliminate campaign surplus accounts, which some politicians have tapped for iPads, clothing, car repairs, tuition and alcohol.

Former state Rep. Toby Nixon and former state Sen. Bill Finkbeiner said they have started working with lawmakers to close the accounts after an Associated Press story identified a variety of questionable expenditures.
Finkbeiner said legislators appear to be using the surplus funds as an extra checking account.

"I just feel like they're being abused," Finkbeiner said. "There's not enough oversight."

Nixon, a Republican, is currently president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. Finkbeiner is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

State law allows politicians to use their surplus accounts for a variety of things, including an umbrella option for "office-related expenses." Nixon and Finkbeiner say that is too broad. They propose the elimination of the accounts and would allow politicians to either return excess money to contributors or to save it for future elections.

Finkbeiner had a surplus account when he was in the Legislature and reported spending the money on meals, printing expenses and travel. Much of it was forwarded to the Senate Republicans campaign committee, which is how many lawmakers shed their excess cash.

Nixon also sent some of his money to political groups, and some of it was donated in 2009 and 2007 to the Washington Coalition for Open Government. He is a volunteer leader at the organization now.

Nixon said the accounts serve as a temptation for politicians to misuse the money. He said no lawmakers have agreed to introduce the legislation, but he suspects there are some who will be on board.

"I do think there are quite a few legislators _ on both sides of the aisle _ who are very committed to ethics and would be willing to sponsor this kind of bill," Nixon said.

Nixon and Finkbeiner also said they want to see the Legislature increase funding for the state's Public Disclosure Commission.

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