CAMPAIGN FINANCE:

Congress members come and go, and donors pay the freight -- literally

U-Haul, and the campaign will pay.

When it comes to campaign funds, congressional candidates and lawmakers are largely prohibited from spending cash on their personal needs. But there are some small loopholes -- including provisions that allow members of Congress to pay for relevant moving expenses, whether they're just arriving on Capitol Hill or packing their belongings to head home.

According to a Federal Election Commission advisory issued in 1980 -- in response to then-Sen.-elect Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) -- moving expenses qualify among the "ordinary and necessary" expenses of lawmakers, allowing members' campaigns to foot the bill for what can often amount to thousands of dollars in expenses from their campaign accounts.

Members exiting office can also use campaign funds for related expenses, as the FEC informed then-Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) in 2010 when the outgoing House lawmaker asked if he could pay for the storage of personal items from his campaign account.

But very few lawmakers appear to take advantage of the option for personal moving expenses, according to an E&E Daily review of campaign expenditures based on data compiled by the website PoliticalMoneyLine.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen, suggested many lawmakers might be "quite nervous" about taking advantage of the provision, likely out of a fear over news stories that could paint the expenditures as a misuse of funds.

Ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) last week admitted to doing just that, pleading guilty in a federal court to one felony fraud count of misusing $750,000 in campaign donations for personal living expenses. He resigned from the House in November citing health issues and the federal investigation. He will be sentenced June 28.

But Holman added that many lawmakers likely aren't familiar with the provisions: "I would expect that most members of Congress would not be willing to use campaign funds for moving expenses -- I bet, even further, that most members are not even aware that they could use campaign funds for moving purposes."

Many of the dozens of listings for moving expenses in the 2012 election cycle are designated as office moves -- like ex-Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who paid out $6,300 for "office furniture, moving, banners, postage, office cleaning" after losing re-election to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) in November -- but several members who are now retired appear to have utilized the option to pay for moving fees.

Among those former lawmakers are current Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), who retired from the House in 2012 and lists a $3,600 payment for "moving expenses due to the end of Congressional service," and ex-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who paid out $517 to a Washington, D.C., U-Haul location for "candidate moving expense."

Other now-retired lawmakers were less specific about whether the moves involved personal items or office furniture.

In December, ex-Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) paid $626 to Rockville, Md.-based College Hunks Moving for "moving expenses"; ex-Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) paid $560 to an Iowa-based Two Men and a Truck outlet for "moving services"; and ex-Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) paid Arlington, Va.-based Bookstore Movers $450 for "moving service."

Ex-Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), who announced in July 2011 that he would not seek re-election, likewise had a series of expenditures in 2012 attributed to "moving expenses," totaling about $2,500.

Among newly elected lawmakers, freshman Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) listed several expenditures following the November election, including a $9,700 expense paid to "Mayflower Transit." Daines' office confirmed that the expense was for staff relocation expenses, but not for the congressman personally.

Freshman Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) also reported spending $1,300 on "moving costs" in late December to ABF U-Pack Moving while Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), who returned to Congress this year after losing her seat in 2010, reported a late-November payment of $600 to First Call Property Services for "moving services."

Want to read more stories like this?

E&E is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy politics and policy.

Click here to start a free trial to E&E -- the best way to track policy and markets.