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TMCNet:  State Rep. Phil King fined $1,300 for violating campaign finance rules

[January 09, 2010]

State Rep. Phil King fined $1,300 for violating campaign finance rules

Jan 09, 2010 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- State Rep. Phil King, a powerful legislator who is on the House Ways and Means Committee, has been fined $1,300 for violating campaign finance laws after the Texas Ethics Commission questioned how he spent about $9,000 in contributions.

The original, anonymous complaint against King alleged that he misused $28,180 in campaign funds.

The Ethics Commission ruled that most of the expenditures were legitimate, and King clarified his campaign finance statements. King also repaid his campaign fund $4,590 from personal funds.

The Ethics Commission upheld the complaint on about $9,790 in expenses but said that most of the violations were technical in nature.

King, R-Weatherford, said the complaint was filed by a California political operative who also filed about 20 other complaints in Texas.

King didn't name his accuser, and the commission said the complainant's name is confidential under state law.

"I had already discovered and corrected the main issue months before he ever filed his complaint," King said in a statement. "I still disagree...with the Ethics Commission staff but it's like arguing with the IRS. I finally decided that it made no sense to spend any more time or money fighting over only $1,300." To avoid the appearance that legislators are taking personal gifts from their contributors, state election laws restrict how lawmakers can spend their campaign contributions.

According to a settlement King signed with the commission, the original complaint alleged that he dipped into his campaign fund for personal expenses between 2005 and 2008 and listed the spending as "accommodations," "travel" or "office refreshments": $9,650 for personal cellphones $2,670 for cleaning services at his Austin apartment $1,960 for cable TV at his Austin apartment $4,340 for groceries at H-E-B and Randalls grocery stores $2,050 for hotels in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas $880 for car rentals $200 from an ATM $200 at airports $5,680 for airline tickets $550 for dry cleaning Legislators are allowed to use campaign funds for official travel and for their household and personal expenses while they're attending legislative sessions, so the Ethics Commission ruled that the housecleaning, cellphone services and airline expenses didn't violate the law.

However, the commission said the $550 for dry cleaning constituted "converting campaign contributions for personal use." The commission also said King didn't sufficiently describe how he spent an additional $2,020 in travel expenses and $7,220 in food and accommodations -- although the commission said there wasn't enough evidence to show that King used the money for personal expenses.

King, a lawyer who has served in the Legislature since 1998, told the commission that he "was under the impression that the campaign funds could be used for any living expense incurred while in Austin as a member of the Legislature." The commission received the complaint in February 2008. King filed a response denying the charges in April 2008 and asked for a delay in filing a detailed response because his accountant was busy with other clients' income taxes.

King didn't respond until Jan. 2, 2009, after he had won re-election for another two-year term.

Asked about the timing of the ruling, Deputy General Counsel Tim Sorrells said: "The commission doesn't delay complaints. They investigate them and resolve them according to when they receive the information necessary to make a determination as to relevance." MIKE LEE, 817-390-7539 To see more of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dfw.com. Copyright (c) 2010, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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