Last year, Morris County Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco charged his re-election campaign $5,984 to go to Puerto Rico for a legislative conference and golf outing. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) used his campaign account to fill up his car enough times to drive across the country, but never said where he was going. So did Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union), who spent $1,707 of his campaign funds to fill up his Ford Escape Hybrid. And Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) used her campaign account to pay off $21,723 in American Express credit card bills, without any explanation as to what she purchased. Candidates in New Jersey have a lot of leeway in how they spend money raised from contributors, as long as they do not use it for personal needs. But an examination by The Star-Ledger of campaign finance reports in the wake of the resignation last week of U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews —; currently under investigation for misuse of federal campaign funds — illustrates just how vague the rules are in New Jersey.
Jeffrey Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, said the commission has long called for legislation that would tighten the law with regard to the reporting of expenditures.
“There really needs to be a law that tightens up and says what you are spending money on,” he said. “We really need to require that these things be itemized.” The definition of a campaign expense has considerable latitude in New Jersey. “You can’t pay for your vehicle or gas for personal use,” said Brindle.
But using campaign funds to pay for travel to conferences — even to Puerto Rico in the dead of winter — is fine, as long as the conference can be shown to be related to a legislator’s job, explained Brindle. And in early December, a contingent of legislators did just that, flying down to San Juan for the annual Latino Institute Legislative Conference and Golf Classic, at the Trump International Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.