RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia has one of the least restrictive campaign finance systems in the country, with virtually no rules on what lawmakers can spend money on, including themselves.
Here's a sample at some of notable expenditures lawmakers have made from their campaign accounts from Jan. 1, 2014 to Oct. 22, 2015, based on data collected by the Virginia Public Access Project:
Giving money to charity is a big part of campaign spending, particularly by legislators in rural, less affluent areas. Lawmakers spent nearly $700,000 on goodwill.
Recently retired Sen. John Watkins gave $50,000 from his campaign account to the Virginia Tech Foundation for what his finance report called "The John C. Watkins Excellence Fund for Agribusiness Mentorship Program."
When Del. Terry Kilgore got wrapped up into a federal investigation of the sudden resignation of former Sen. Phil Puckett in 2014, his campaign paid $45,000 in legal fees. Kilgore was never charged with a crime.
Some lawmakers frequently use their campaign accounts to pay for their fill-ups at gas stations. Others have their toll pass credit regularly reset by their campaign account. And Del. Charles Poindexter, Del. Matt Fariss and Sen. John Cosgrove reported on their campaign reports that their campaigns paid the Department of Motor Vehicles for license plate fees.
GIFTS FOR STAFF
Several lawmakers have used their campaign accounts instead of their own money to give flowers or other gifts to their secretaries. Former GOP Sen. Walter Stosch gave an aide a $10,000 retirement gift from his campaign account before he retired at the beginning of this year. Stosch said the payment helped make up for years of low pay.
Some lawmakers said it was convenient to have their campaign account pay for some personal items, like monthly cellphone plans, that can also be used for official or political reasons.
"I'm not going to walk around with three phones," said Del. Mark Keam.