As you may or may not know, legislators are subject to some pretty strict rules when it comes to accepting contributions and ‘gifts’ from lobbyists. The obvious reason for this is that human beings might be pretty easily swayed to vote in favor of or against certain bills with, say, fancy cars and/or tricked out Alienware laptops. OK, perhaps not the latter, I can’t picture some lifelong politician at the state house getting down with WoW when he’s supposed to be on the floor debating the latest farm bill. I digress.
When it comes to crowdfunding, the law hasn’t quite caught up to the technology. We’ve discussed this problem before in the context of fraud, as many police departments and state attorney generals still don’t quite know how to deal with allegations of crowdfunding fraud. That said, authorities are starting to figure it out, levying current laws against GoFundMe scammers such as communications fraud, theft by deception, larceny, and even money laundering.
That’s great and all on the fraud front, but now ethics panels are starting to mull over the legality of legislators using GoFundMe to fund their convention trips. Washington state in particular is starting to wonder out loud if GoFundMe page contributions are somehow skirting the rules. Should contributions to these campaigns fall under election campaign rules which cap gifts at $50 and require disclosure to the state Public Disclosure Commission?
The Bellingham Herald of Washington state reports:
“It’s almost like a new way of collecting funds — and no one has thought about ‘How do we monitor that?’” said Debbie Regala, a former Democratic state senator from Tacoma who now serves on the ethics board.
“That sounds like a loophole to me,” said state Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, another member of the board.
As it turns out, federal law allows for delegates to raise money to attend national conventions, without revealing who gave them money and just how much.
Convention trips can easily cost several thousand dollars, and this year in particular it was not that uncommon for delegates to turn to crowdfunding to fund said trips. However, one attack against a Washington lawmaker who did such called his GoFundMe campaign to attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as a Bernie Sanders delegate a “lobbyist funded travel junket to Philadelphia.” That lawmaker — David Sawyer of the 29th District — pulled the campaign and refunded donors. “It’s disappointing but the reality is I have an obligation to run my campaign effectively and compete,” he said. He did not attend the convention.
As you may recall, an ethics panel in Kansas recently considered the legality of donations to GoFundMe campaigns that benefit lawmakers after state Rep. Scott Schwab’s son died tragically at a local water park.
Clearly, this issue requires a bit of brain juice to puzzle out. Glad to see ethics committees on top of it.