- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Federal Election Commission has dropped a long-running campaign finance investigation into former New Jersey Democratic Rep. Robert E. Andrews, despite the objections of a leading campaign finance watchdog.

The panel had been investigating whether Mr. Andrews had violated federal campaign finance laws by using campaign contributions to fund a family trip to Scotland, to pay for his teenage daughter to travel to Los Angeles to promote her show business career, and to underwrite a party to commemorate his congressional service and celebrate his other daughter’s high school graduation.

Mr. Andrews insisted the trip to Scotland was legal campaign-related travel, which allowed him to spend $13,539.70 in campaign funds for his family’s lodging and other expenses, including $7,725 for two rooms for three nights at the Balmoral Hotel, $953 on meals, tips and airline baggage fees, $88 for newspapers, and $463 to Bloomingdale’s for a gift for a wedding the family attended.

The FEC ruled that the money came from funds that would not have been needed if Mr. Andrews had not been running for office, and expenses that did qualify as personal expenditures had been refunded before a formal complaint was received.

“A contribution is converted for personal use only if the commitment, obligation or expense giving rise to the expense would exit ‘irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign or individual duties as a holder of federal office,’” the commissioners wrote.

“If campaign funds are used for a financial obligation that is caused by a campaign activity or the activities of an officeholder, that is not personal use.’”

In a statement to The Washington Times, Mr. Andrews, a 14-term lawmaker who resigned his House seat in February to join a Philadelphia law firm, thanked the commission for its fairness and the reasoning that led to the decision.

“I have always stated that any fair review of the facts and law would lead to a dismissal of these false and politically motivated accusations,” Mr. Andrews said. ” I am very grateful to my former constituents for their support and friendship through the years. My family and I are also very thankful for the outpouring of good wishes we have received since I joined the private sector.”

Watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington expressed disappointment at the ruling.

“Surely, thieves everywhere would appreciate a law enforcement policy under which all charges are dropped if, once caught, a wrongdoer simply returns the money. This proves what so many already believe: Members of Congress really don’t have to follow the same laws as the rest of us,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director for the watchdog group.

The FEC also found that as long as the congressman’s daughter attended one campaign event with her father during the trips, the violation was too minor to prosecute.

“It is ridiculous that candidates are now free to use campaign funds to pay for family members’ travel as long as they manage to include even a lunch or coffee with a potential donor,” Ms. Sloan said. “If a candidate’s child is seeking a tech job, why not let the campaign locate someone who will meet in San Francisco?”

Mr. Andrews in turn had some harsh words for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.

“Unlike Ms. Sloan’s fringe group, which refuses to disclose who finances its smear campaigns against public officials and their children, the FEC embraced transparency and fair procedures,” he said. “I am very grateful for this final resolution. I again thank my constituents for their support.”

Not all of the commissioners were in agreement on the matter though. In a Twitter message to the watchdog group, FEC Chair Ellen L. Weintraub said that she supported a continued investigation.

“I voted to investigate. This case raised serious personal-use issues and I believe the FEC should have taken action.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide