Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is once again in the news for possible illicit, albeit government-sanctioned, usage of campaign funds.
On January 4, the Washington Examiner first reported that the Senator from Nevada made a two-pronged request to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), seeking allowance to use campaign cash to hire an administrative assistant to help with the Senator's post-office activities, and to use money from Reid's leadership PAC to fund the costs associated with transitioning out of his Senate role and into what would be his new role as a "former officeholder." In an advisory opinion directed to the Reid's General Counsel, the FEC granted permission for both requests.
This isn't the first time the senator has been involved in controversy surrounding the use of political money. In 2014, Harry Reid decided to voluntarily reimburse his campaign's coffers for spent money that was flagged by the FEC -- money that Reid spent on gifts for his granddaughter, staff and other family members.
In spite of the fact that the reimbursement was given to the campaign as a way of appeasing the FEC in their initial investigation into the spending, there is an issue of whether elected officials should even conceive of campaign cash as something that they have free reign to use for personal spending.
The fact that campaign cash can first be spent for an elected official's personal agenda, later reimbursed, and then afterward have the issue altogether dismissed as having been "resolved," signifies that the inappropriate spending of political dollars has become an American norm.
Democrat FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel stated her support of Reid's request, claiming that this personal use of previously raised campaign cash is essential to the ability of the Senator to perform duties "important to the American public."
Ravel's support stems from her admiration of Reid as an "historic figure," who she says should be granted access to this money because Reid's leadership position has prevented him from performing the typical functions that Members of Congress, who are not under the stresses of being in a leadership position, are able to perform.
The issue of whether former elected officials should be compensated following their time in office is not the issue in question. Assuming it is acceptable or even enacted into law that they would be, it is clear that there should be a different mechanism by which elected officials receive their money, other than from taking it away from the money raised by campaigns and leadership PACs.
Federal law prohibits using campaign funds for personal uses, which makes both Reid's request, and the FEC's nod of approval, all the more flabbergasting.
In the post-Citizens United era, where campaign fundraising involves pandering to corporate lobbyists and wealthy, special interests, requests like Reid's -- someone who is viewed as a leader in the Democratic party -- only further the appearance of corruption in our democracy.