A Wall Street Journal story today about off-the-wall campaign expenses mentions Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and his frequent deployment of funeral baskets, as well as the late Rep. John P. Murtha:
Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, often uses his campaign funds to pay for funeral baskets. Mr. Doyle's report shows he bought 21 funeral baskets for a total of about $3,000 in the last two years. Mr. Doyle lists the reason for the outlay as "operating expense" on his election-spending reports.
Election rules prohibit candidates from using campaign funds to pay for funeral costs unless the candidate, campaign employee or volunteer dies while campaigning. But an exception to that rule allows candidates to use re-election funds to pay for gifts of "nominal value" for constituents.
Mr. Doyle's campaign also charged $241 on lodging for the funeral of Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who died in February.
Before his death, Mr. Murtha appeared to use his campaign account frequently. In 2009, campaign records show near-weekly charges at a Giant Eagle grocery store in Johnstown in his district. The expenses, which totaled nearly $5,000 in 2009, were listed as "campaign office expenses."
In January 2009, Mr. Murtha's account paid $1,600 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who played in the Super Bowl that Feb. 1. That March, Mr. Murtha paid another $3,000 to the Steelers for "gifts," according to his spending report.
Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein LLP, said the expenses could "arguably be OK" if Mr. Murtha thought it was important to "show up at the Pittsburgh game to show the Murtha flag."
Lawyers for Mr. Murtha's campaign account did not respond to requests for comment.
I reached out to Doyle, who quipped that "The Wall Street Journal boys must have been having a slow week." He defended the expenditures as entirely on the up-and-up with the FEC because they are all for funerals for local Democratic officials, and he gets no personal benefit from the funds. He pointed out that there are approximately 546 million municipalities in Allegheny County, with their own mayors, councils and school boards.
"In Western Pennsylvania this is a time-honored treadition that you show respect and send flowers," he said. "Generally I'll order a basket of flowers if a Democratic official passes away or somebody who’s very prominient in our community who’s been involved with me politically. Sometime it’s a spouse."
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