I have not commented on this yet, because I don’t know any facts other than what I’ve read in the paper, and I don’t know squat about election law or tax law, either. But it’s news, and I am a blogger, so here goes.
Bessemer Circuit Judge Dan King turned himself in this morning after being charged with 56 counts of tax, ethics and election law violations, Alabama Attorney General Troy King said today. . . .
Dan King has been charged with:
- Two counts of income tax evasion by filing a false tax return for the years 2003 and 2004.
- Two counts of making a false statement regarding those tax returns.
- Two counts of violating the campaign finance law by failing to disclose actual cash assets, contributions and expenditures in 2004 and 2005.
- 25 counts of misusing campaign contributions by depositing checks in his personal account and using the funds to make payment on a personal loan.
- 25 counts of violating the state ethics law by using campaign funds for personal use.
Here’s the first response:
Bessemer Circuit Judge Dan King spent $4,700 on food during the years 2003 and 2005, campaign finance records show. The question is whether those and other expenditures qualify as legitimate campaign expenses. . . .
A review of King’s campaign finance forms show that the judge – who has not faced opposition in two elections – spent thousands of dollars on items that do not appear, on their face, to be campaign-related.
For example, records show that King spend almost $4,700 on meals in 2003 and 2005.
The Bright Star in Bessemer and San Antonio Grille in McCalla were the most frequent entries. King spent $230 on a meal at The Bright Star, the most expensive outing, in November 2003.
[King’s lawyer, Ralph “Buddy”] Armstrong said he has not looked at King’s expenses in detail, but he is sure there is a reasonable explanation. He said the law allows for reasonable expenditures on things not directly related to a campaign as long as they are not for personal use, such as household items or mortgage payments.
Records show that King contributed about $2,700 to St. Aloysius School throughout 2003 while his sons attended there. In 2005, records show, King contributed about $2,200 to athletic programs at John Carroll High School, where one of his sons plays sports. He also made contributions to civic organizations and churches, the report shows. Armstrong said there was nothing illegal about those donations, as the law allows donations to tax-exempt organizations.
Armstrong said the campaign owes King more than $30,000, although records do not indicate that King made any loans to the campaign. Any campaign funds deposited in King’s personal account went toward paying off what the campaign owed King, Armstrong said.
I don’t know about the tax charges, but based on what’s in the news this morning, the campaign finance charges could be the result of bad record keeping rather than criminal activity.
My understanding is that when a person decides to run for office, they have to form a campaign committee, which can consist of several people, or just the candidate themselves. It looks like Judge King went with the committee. The committee then has to set up a bank account for the campaign, and all contributions must go into, and all the expenses must be paid out of, that account.
The big question is what sort of expenditures the committee is allowed to make. Here’s the law (Ala. Code 17-5-7):
(a) A candidate, public official, or principal campaign committee as defined in this chapter, may only use campaign contributions, and any proceeds from investing the contributions that are in excess of any amount necessary to defray expenditures of the candidate, public official, or principal campaign committee, for the following purposes:
(1) Necessary and ordinary expenditures of the campaign.
(2) Expenditures that are reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held. For purposes of this section, expenditures that are reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held do not include personal and legislative living expenses, as defined in this chapter.
(3) Donations to the State General Fund, the Education Trust Fund, or equivalent county or municipal funds. Donations to an organization to which a federal income tax deduction is permitted under subparagraph (A) of paragraph (1) of subsection (b) of Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, or any other charitable, educational, or eleemosynary cause of Section 501 of Title 26 of the U. S. Code.
(4) Transfers to another political committee as defined in this chapter.
(5) Inaugural or transitional expenses.
You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that this statute leaves candidates plenty of discretion in deciding how to use campaign funds. Like Armstrong said, about the only thing that would be patently illegal is using the funds to pay a house note.
As for the expenditures the paper mentions, the school donations are kosher. It would have been a problem had the judge paid his kids’ tuition, but a donation is fine. And the meals? It’s impossible to say anything for certain without knowing the facts about each individual meal, but certainly “wining and dining” influential people is a normal practice in campaigns. As for the funds deposited in Judge King’s account, if he did in fact loan his own money to the campaign, then that would also be perfectly legal.
So there could be legitimate explanations for all of these expenditures. If that’s the case, than his problems are the result of not properly documenting the campaign spending. Had his paperwork been more detailed, anyone investigating it would have seen that the spending was legit. As it is, sceptical reviewers were free to draw negative inferences. And who knows, the negative inferences may be right. Maybe he was using this money for his own personal benefit. We’ll have to wait for the trial to find out.