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Published: Wednesday, 8/1/2007

Redfern paid rent to fiancee, using campaign funds

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS While living together in Columbus before marrying in March, Ohio Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) used campaign cash to pay rent to his then-fiancee.

I m damned if I do and damned if I don t, said Mr. Redfern, who doubles as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. He said he paid his fiancee rent to avoid suggestions he had accepted a gift from a lobbyist, which his wife later became.

I followed every rule to the letter, he said.

The secretary of state s office, which serves as Ohio s top elections watchdog, agreed that payment of the rent from Mr. Redfern s House campaign committee did not violate election law.

It is generally considered a legitimate expense, given the fact that legislators have to, in some cases, travel great distances, said Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for the secretary of state. It s the but for rule. Would you have to make the expense but for being a legislator?

Campaign cash, however, cannot be used to purchase a home. The Redferns now live in a house they bought together.

Phil Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said the commission has never been asked to address this question before.

The law allows for expenditures for campaigning and related to duties of a public officeholder, he said. If that s determined to be related to the duties of a public officeholder, it s an appropriate expense. For instance, if you wanted to have a local office in the district, I think the commission has opined that that was an appropriate expenditure. This is kind of the inverse of that, that you were down here to do your job.

The Ohio Republican Party said it was reserving comment while it looked into the issue.

Mr. Redfern disclosed a rent payment of $4,700 to his fiancee, Kim, in his recently filed campaign finance report, which covers the first half of the year. Mr. Redfern had reported payments of $12,800 for rent and utilities for another apartment in Columbus in previous campaign filings for 2006.

My lease came up at the end of December, he said. I was engaged to my wife, Kim, and decided to stay at her house. She owned the house in German Village. I had no legal interest in the house. At the time, she was an Equality Ohio fund-raiser. She was not a lobbyist, but she was perceived to be because she ran in those circles.

She s now a [registered] lobbyist, he said. I didn t want my political opponents out there saying I was staying free in the home of a lobbyist. I realize the microscope is out, but I did everything according to the law.

Rank-and-file legislators receive a salary of $58,934 a year. Mr. Redfern, former minority leader, also receives a stipend as the ranking Democrat on the House Health Care Access and Affordability Committee.

Lawmakers do not receive taxpayer-funded stipends for living expenses, although they can use such expenses as deductions on their income tax returns. The House does pay mileage for once-a-week travel to and from Columbus.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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