Former Rep. Eric Massa spent nearly $32,000 of campaign money on an automobile, just two days before he announced he would resign his New York congressional seat amid of sexual harassment allegations.
Massa, a New York Democrat, made a payment for $31,896.42 to GMAC for a “campaign car lease” on March 3, according to Federal Election Commission filings released this week. Two days later, Massa announced he would resign effective March 8.
The five previous payments to GMAC were on or around the 25th of each month for a far lesser sum — $605.68. It’s not clear why Massa made the lump sum payment for the car or whether the car would be used in any official capacity.
A phone number associated with Massa’s address in New York was disconnected Friday, and the lawmaker has largely been out of the limelight since he left Congress.
Ken Gross, a former top FEC attorney who is now a campaign lawyer with the firm Skadden Arps, said it would be “problematic” if Massa bought the car with campaign funds for personal use.
“He didn’t have a campaign, he wasn’t running for anything, so I don’t know how he could use the car for campaign purposes,” Gross said. “If it was for personal use, it could be in violation of personal use restrictions.”
Even in normal circumstances, purchasing a car with campaign funds is “vexing and nettlesome,” Gross said. Accounting procedures are cumbersome, since the lawmaker might use the car for several purposes, including for campaign travel, government travel and personal use.
The FEC in 2001 ruled that Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) could purchase an automobile with campaign funds, as long as he kept a mileage log parsing out personal use and campaign use. He said the personal use would be less than 5 percent of his total driving – the FEC ruled that would constitute an acceptable use of the automobile.
Attempts to reach Massa were unsuccessful; his phone appears to have been disconnected.