State lawmakers used unspent campaign money for suits, meals, office decor

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Since the election, more than a dozen state lawmakers have spent thousands of surplus campaign money on suits, flights, meals, charities and office furnishings, according to a review of state records by the Northwest News Network and The Seattle Times.

Campaign finance rules govern how lawmakers can use unspent donations once an election is over, The Times reported. Among the choices, they can hold it for a future campaign, donate it to political parties or charities, or cover unreimbursed expenses related to their duties as elected officials.

In recent months, Sen. Doug Ericksen, a Ferndale Republican, has spent thousands of dollars in surplus election-campaign money to pay for airfare, as well as lodging and meals in Washington, D.C. The senator in recent months has been juggling his legislative duties and his job at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Others have also tapped surplus campaign money.

Sen. Kirk Pearson, a Republican from Monroe, bought nearly $1,300 worth of suits and ties. He said he has also given to charity.

State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Spokane Democrat, spent more than $1,200 on airfare to his home district. He said his travel is necessary to see his family and keep in touch with constituents.

Two other GOP senators have spent thousands of dollars in surplus funds to furnish their Olympia offices.

Evelyn Fielding Lopez, executive director of the Public Disclosure Commission, which oversees the state’s campaign finance regulations, said lawmakers need to keep records and be ready to explain what the money was used for and how it was connected to public office.

Ericksen’s spending may be fine, depending on what he was doing in D.C., she said.

If the senator traveled to meet state officials or Washington’s congressional delegation, for example, it could be considered related to his legislative duties, Lopez said. Using surplus funds for expenses related to a different elected office or job would not be appropriate, she said.

Ericksen said his spending is within the rules.

“All surplus fund expenditures are related to conducting my duties as an elected official,” he wrote in an email. He declined to answer questions about specific expenses, such as for airfare, lodging and meals in Washington, D.C.

As of March 8, the EPA had not reimbursed Ericksen for any travel expenses between Washington state and the nation’s capital, according to information from a public records request by The Seattle Times.

The biggest expense Ericksen reported paying with surplus campaign funds came during his January trip to D.C. for President Donald Trump’s inauguration. On Jan. 23, his first day with the EPA, Ericksen reported spending $2,084 at an Embassy Suites hotel in D.C.

Zeiger, who moved from the House to the Senate this year, described his new office as shabby. So he spent more than $10,000 in surplus funds at a store in his district.

Sen. Ann Rivers, a La Center Republican, also spent more than $8,000 to furnish her legislative office. She also donated $2,100 to a charity in Brush Prairie.

The Public Disclosure Commission’s Lopez said furniture might be a legitimate use of surplus campaign money, depending on the circumstances. But the campaign actually owns that furniture, so a lawmaker should track what ultimately happens to it.