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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 09/16/2010

Run for office, attend the symphony?

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

Holding elections in odd instead of even years allows Virginia delegates and state senators to sit back and watch the congressional candidates hash it out.

But that doesn't mean they're not digging into their own campaign funds.

Del. Onzlee Ware, a Roanoke Democrat, reported spending $826 in May at L’Auberge Provencale, a bed and breakfast in the Shenandoah Valley. In 2008, he drew from his campaign funds to pay for a YMCA gym membership and tickets to the Roanoke Symphony.

Mr. Ware also spent campaign money on seemingly personal expenses in the midst of last year's election. He paid $250 for a membership to the Taubman Museum of Art and spent $90 on two tickets to a “70’s event” at the Science Museum of Western Virginia.

Visiting the gym or attending a concert with the help of leftover campaign cash must be tempting to candidates, considering how the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) is interpreting Virginia code.

A section of the code says it's illegal to use contributed funds for personal expenses. But because that section is in an area that address procedures for closing down campaign bank accounts and filing a final report, the SBE says the personal use prohibition applies only to money that's still in the account when a candidate closes it. All campaign money is fair game as long as the account remains open -- and many candidates maintain their accounts for years.

It's a unique interpretation, considering that I've been told that's not what legislators intended when they passed the law. Maryland's prohibition on spending any campaign dollars for personal use is more typical of how states tend to regulate campaign finance.

At any rate, Mr. Ware, who has not responded to requests for comment, seems to understand the Board of Elections' interpretation of the law and how it relates to his own spending. He recorded collecting $7,532 in donations so far this year... and has spent all but $163.

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Paige Winfield Cunningham  | September 16, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia  
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