And Boucher has responded - to the newspapers - to the charge.
The most feckless and ill-conceived response one could ever imagine:
Boucher uses $29,352 in campaign funds to buy carFirst, it's worth noting that Boucher's "campaign" also pays for the upkeep of that Jeep. Still.
By Mason Adams, Roanoke Times
U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher spent nearly $30,000 in campaign funds to buy a crossover SUV last fall. Now his opponents in the 9th Congressional District race are trying to get their own mileage out of it.
The expense appeared in a fourth quarter 2009 report Boucher filed with the Federal Election Commission, along with several vehicle-related maintenance costs in the months since then. Boucher said he bought the 2010 Ford Edge in November at Bostic Ford Sales -- a dealership in the 9th District -- with a mix of campaign funds and personal money in such a way that he can use it for official, campaign and limited personal business without spending taxpayer money.
Republican Morgan Griffith, who's running against Boucher, issued a news release Thursday noting the amount of campaign funding spent on the vehicle is just under the $34,506 mean income of district residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
"At a time when people are struggling to pay their bills, no congressman should be purchasing a new car with campaign contributions," Griffith said. "Rick Boucher should be able to purchase a car himself with his $174,000 congressional salary."
Boucher said Thursday evening that the $29,352 listed in the report represented three-quarters of the vehicle's cost, and that he paid the rest with his personal money. He took a similar approach when buying a Jeep Cherokee in 2000, only with the percentages swapped: He paid for three-quarters and used campaign money for the rest.
That arrangement, Boucher said, is an alternative to a common practice in which members of Congress lease a vehicle through the House of Representatives.
Boucher said his method allows him to use his two vehicles for official, campaign and some personal uses without costing taxpayers any money.
He said his personal use of both vehicles is limited: "My life revolves around my job. The vast majority of my travel is for campaign purposes or for official purposes." Boucher and his staffers have put about 150,000 miles on the Jeep and about 20,000 on the Ford, he said.
Jan Baran, head of Wiley Rein LLP, an election law firm in Washington, said the Federal Election Commission "allows candidates to use campaign funds to purchase vehicles and service them to the extent they're used for campaign purposes.
"They can't be used for personal transportation unrelated to the campaign. You can use them for congressional duties as permitted under House rules as well as FEC rules," he said. [link]
He needs two vehicles for his "official purposes"?
Secondly, to the extent that he needs transportation to and from Washington for those "official purposes," it's worth remembering that the taxpayers of Southwest Virginia pay for his travel and he gets reimbursed. So why does his campaign need a fleet of vehicles?
Third, and most important, Congressman Rick Boucher has admitted breaking the law. He acknowledges (above) that he uses these vehicles for "some personal use." Even if that use is "limited," as he says it is, it is unlawful, according to Jan Baran, who cites FEC regulations (again, see above), for candidates to use campaign funds to purchase and service vehicles for any purpose other than those directly involving his campaign. His personal use (and official use) of the vehicles are, therefore, a violation of the law.
Did he even think this through before he gave that response to the Roanoke Times?
Fourth, Boucher's explanation in detail:
“In 2009, my campaign purchased a Ford vehicle with the necessary space to carry campaign materials. Contrary to a claim by one of the candidates, this Ford is not a luxury vehicle. Lincoln is the luxury brand for this automaker, not Ford. It is the size vehicle needed for the transportation of campaign personnel and materials. This purchase was in every respect necessary for our campaign activities and in accordance with applicable rules for the use of campaign funds.”
Am I the only person who conjures the word WASTE when reading that? Unless Boucher is in year-round campaign mode, why buy a car for campaign purposes? Does he park it the other 22 months out of each biennium when he's not campaigning?
Bottom line: Expect a quick reimbursement to his campaign to flow from his bulging pockets in coming days. This is an issue that Boucher needs to make go away, and fast.
But will it?
- - -
By contrast ...
"[Morgan Griffith] traveled the sprawling district's winding roads last week in an aging Volkswagen Passat, its hubcaps missing and the fiberglass cowling sheared off its right rearview mirror."
And for the sake of transparency - Griffith gets reimbursed by his campaign for gasoline usage to and from his campaign gigs.
As it ought to be.