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Alabama: state senator used campaign funds for trip to Israel

The Birmingham News reports: Radio talk show host Matt Murphy challenged state Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, Thursday to justify spending campaign money for a trip to Israel and for Alabama and Auburn football tickets.

Murphy said he is requesting in a letter that Attorney General Troy King "investigate this matter and decide whether charges should be brought." ...

Erwin denied spending campaign money improperly. He said he spent $2,354 in October 2002 to accompany representatives of the Birmingham Jewish Federation on a trip to Israel as a representative of Alabama. Erwin told Murphy on the air Thursday that Alabama is on the brink of doing business with Israel as a result of his trip. -- State senator defends use of campaign funds

The Birmingham News editorializes: Unfortunately, Alabama's public officials and candidates have a long history of stretching the limits of the law and public trust in their use of campaign funds.

State Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, is the latest. ...

Are these legitimate uses of campaign funds? Fortunately for people like Erwin, the answer isn't entirely clear. The state law governing the use of campaign contributions sets limits, but the language is broad enough to cover a lot of questionable spending.

While the ethics law forbids the use of campaign funds for personal gain, campaign-finance laws permit spending on expenses "reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held." The attorney general's office in the past has found that legal uses include such items as office furniture and legal expenses. -- Goodwill hunting

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