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Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board looking into legislator’s mileage

MileageBy Bob Eschliman
Editor

 

© The Iowa Statesman

 

Questions about mileage expenses have forced the resignation of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL). Now, the expenses of an Iowa legislator has raised similar questions.

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) was first elected to his seat in the Iowa House of Representatives in 2012. His first campaign committee disclosure reports to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board were filed in May of 2012.

He serves as chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee. He also serves on the Commerce, Judiciary, Local Government, and Veterans Affairs committees. That includes two interim study committees, the Local Government Mandates Study Committee, and the Local Government Public Records Study Committee.

He also is the son of Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann.

At the request of one of his constituents, The Iowa Statesman reviewed Bobby Kaufmann’s quarterly campaign disclosure reports. The review focused specifically upon mileage reimbursements paid out by his campaign committee. During the two most recent campaign cycles, Bobby Kaufmann was reimbursed by his campaign 76 times for 39,598 miles.

He won his first election in 2012, defeating Dick Schwab, a Democrat, by nearly 13 points. He won his bid for re-election in 2014, defeating David Johnson, also a Democrat, by more than 35 points. He has never faced a primary challenger.

Jeff Kaufmann was Bobby Kaufmann’s predecessor in the House. During the two previous campaign cycles (2008 and 2010 elections), his campaign committee reimbursed him 13 times for 21,542 miles.

The Iowa Statesman randomly reviewed the campaign committee expenditure reports of several other current representatives, including Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen, and House Minority Leader Mark Smith. That review found the practice of reimbursing the candidate for mileage from campaign committee funds is not necessarily a common practice.

Paulsen’s reported mileage for the last two campaign cycles was approximately 11,400 (on one occasion, the actual mileage was not reported, only the dollar amount of the reimbursement). His campaign committee reimbursed him for mileage 10 times during the two cycles. Paulsen’s district in suburban Cedar Rapids is substantially smaller than Bobby Kaufmann’s district.

Smith did not report mileage reimbursement of any kind, nor did more than half of those reviewed. State Rep. Greg Heartsill was among those reviewed who had a similarly sized – although slightly larger – district to Bobby Kaufmann, and his campaign committee reported mileage reimbursements.

Heartsill also joined the Iowa General Assembly following the 2012 General Election. During the two most recent campaign cycles, Heartsill was reimbursed six times for a total of 15,641 miles.

Iowa Code 68A.302 permits the use of campaign funds for campaign purposes, educational and other expenses associated with the duties of office and constituency services.  IECDB has enacted Rule 351-4.25, which provides a complete list of permissible expenses.

“Legislators may use campaign funds to reimburse themselves for mileage to and from the Statehouse provided the state is not also reimbursing them for the same trip,” IECDB executive director Megan Tooker said. “Candidates may be reimbursed from their campaign committees for travel associated with attending another candidate’s campaign event under the theory that it enhances the reimbursed candidate’s candidacy.”

Not only did the number of reimbursements and total miles reported stand out, but the manner in which they were reported seemed unusual. Of the 76 times Bobby Kaufmann was reimbursed for mileage, he was reimbursed for a number of miles ending in zero 75 times.

He was reimbursed for mileage amounts ending in two zeroes 54 of the 76 times.

Tooker said she would expect any of IECDB’s four auditors to be concerned about frequent reimbursements of mileage in perfectly round numbers and to question it and ask for specifics. She said Bobby Kaufmann’s campaign reports had not yet been audited, but would be soon as a result of The Iowa Statesman’s investigation.

“When we audit the committees of candidates, we start by spot checking their mileage logs,” she said. “We also ask for the mileage rate they used if their report doesn’t specify. For example, some candidates will report a total dollar amount and list ‘mileage’ as the explanation. A much better explanation would be ‘reimbursement for 775 miles at .45/mile for travel that occurred from January 1 – March 31 of 2014.’”

On multiple occasions, Bobby Kaufmann was reimbursed for mileage amounts twice on the same day. Tooker did not say if this was an irregular practice, but did say the volume of reimbursements was concerning.

On Nov. 10, 2014, he was reimbursed for 380 and 900 miles, individually. The 380-mile reimbursement was a direct withdrawal from the bank, while the 900-mile amount was paid by means of a check written in his name.

On Aug. 4, 2014, he was reimbursed for 1,000 and 500 miles, individually. The 1,000-mile reimbursement was by means of a check written in his name, while the 500-mile reimbursement was a direct withdrawal from the bank.

On Aug. 21, 2012, he was reimbursed for 250 and 400 miles, individually. Both reimbursements were paid with checks from the campaign committee’s bank account.

Bobby is not the only member of the Kaufmann family who received mileage reimbursements from his campaign committee. His mother, Vicki, was reimbursed for exactly 700 miles in November of 2012.

His brother, John, who listed Jeff and Vicki’s home address as his home, was reimbursed five times in 2012 and 2014 for a total of 10,504 miles. Those included exact-mileage amounts of 400 (August 2012), 4000 (July and October 2014), and 2000 (November 2014) miles.

Tooker said IECDB requires candidates prepare a mileage log detailed in Rule 351-4.25, if seeking reimbursement for mileage. She said reimbursement must be for “actual miles, not approximate miles.”

“Candidates are not required to automatically file their mileage logs with us,” she said. “However, we typically ask for at least a sample period and make sure they are keeping track like they are supposed to. Typically a copy of a mileage log would be faxed or emailed to us for the auditor to review. If the auditor thinks it merits saving, then it would be placed in the candidate’s paper file and would be a public record.”

Tooker said it is not clear what could happen as a result of the IECDB’s review of Bobby Kaufmann’s expenditure reports. She said that in cases where errors are found in reports, her office typically asks that the errors be corrected.

“[W]e expect them to learn from their mistakes and not repeat them,” she said. “The  board has the discretion to issue a reprimand and/or penalty if it thinks the situation warrants it.”

Bobby Kaufmann responded to a request for comment with the following statement:

“Since I have never once heard a single concern from a constituent regarding this issue I have a hard time believing ‘a constituent’ expressed any concern to you. I have a very open relationship with my constituents including my constituents on the other side of the aisle. My report is very public so I am very aware anyone can look at it at any time. My father had a more established career when he was in the legislature and didn’t feel it necessary to reimburse himself very often for miles driven. As someone who is self-employed I need to pay myself back more often for miles driven. My brother John and I have door knocked over 17,000 doors since 2012. I have reimbursed both him and myself far, far less than I am legally allowed to. As far as the reimbursements to my mother, as stated in the descriptor on my reports, they are reimbursements for campaign supplies – mostly parade candy.

“Several months ago a few political foes of mine issued a threat that this very situation would happen.  Your language and the language they used are oddly similar.

“I told them the same thing I will tell you – my report is very public, I have reimbursed myself far, far less than I am allowed, and there is nothing to find here.  You are welcome to continue following my very public reports – I have nothing to hide.”