Lawmaker’s campaign questioned about Brooks Brothers suits

State Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican bail bondsman from Albemarle in the midst of his second term at the state legislature, used his campaign account,  to pay for $857 worth of Brooks Brothers suits, according to a report over the weekend from his hometown paper.

It certainly won’t get the same level of attention that John Edward’s $400 haircut did in 2007 (which turns out may have indirectly lead to the criminal indictment now hanging over Edward’s head at the Raleigh federal courthouse), but Burr’s high-end suits do seem an unusual use of campaign funds.

Burr told the The Stanly News and Press, in a story published Friday that he’s in the midst of revising some of his campaign finance reports after several discrepancies were pointed out to the N.C. Board of Elections by Greg Flynn, a Raleigh architect and frequent blogger on state policy issues. (You can read the letters Flynn wrote to the SBOE by scrolling down on his blog —  http://gregflynn.org/)

Burr’s also used his campaign to pay for furniture for his legislative office, the $457.50 monthly rent for an apartment he shares with state Rep. David Guice, and to pay for half the washer and dryer the lawmakers apparently bought for the Raleigh apartment, according to Burr’s campaign finance report for the first six months of 2011. (Guice didn’t charge the other half of the washer/dryer to his campaign, but did have his campaign pay for a lot of dry cleaning and an iPad).

“There’s nothing to it,” Burr told the Stanly paper. “I would rather me purchase these things instead of the taxpayers.”

We have a call into Burr’s office to see if he has any further comment.

But taxpayers do pay for some of lawmakers expenses while they’re in Raleigh for the session, in addition to the $13,951-a-year salary they get (which hasn’t gone up since the mid-1990s).

They get a $104 per diem reimbursement to cover lodging and meals during the three sessions held during 2011.

In Burr’s case, he’s received $16,952 for sustenance and $1, 614 for travel costs in 2011 on top of his annual legislative salary, according to the N.C. General Assembly’s Legislative Services Offices.

Bob Hall, director of the government watchdog group Democracy NC, thinks putting the cost of a suit is a more than legitimate expense for a legislator to tap into his or her campaign funds, considering that all members have to be wearing suits when on the floors of the House and Senate.

“You do have to think, but for serving in a public office, would you need all this stuff?,” Hall said. “Given the lousy pay the public gives legislators, the public doesn’t get to gripe about using campaign money for paying for the cost of being in office.”

So, NC Policy Watch readers, what do you think?

Is there anything amiss about campaign money paying for things like suits, rent and furniture? Or should there be stricter rules about what the campaign coffers get used for?

4 Comments

  1. David Morgan

    October 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I am glad that I am not a contributor to Justin Burr because I would hate for my contribution to be going toward his $800+ Brooks Brothers suits, his $300 lamps, his $350+ washer & dryer, his $400 picture frames or $3200+ to his rent !!!

    As a voter in his dristrict, I am not happy that he looked after the pockets of bail bondsmen at the possible revenue expense to our schools.

    And to Stanly County he manipulated SB411 through the legislature last June that changed the way local boards were appointed. He did this without any know request for such action. When questioned he replied to the local newspaper that he did not have to ask anybody to make changes.

    Surely we will replace Justin Burr in 2012!!!

  2. Frances Jenkins

    October 26, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Cheap Shot

  3. karmen

    October 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    First let me state my standing for offering this response to the article. I was a contributor to the Justin Burr for NC House campaign fund during the time period questioned. Rest assured, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the manner in which Rep. Burr spent my contribution. Anytime I make a contribution to any candidate, it is with the understanding that this contribution may be used for either the candidate’s campaign or for expenses that candidate deems necessary for holding office. Suits and jackets are items necessary for holding his office and such is a legal expense as defined in the NC Campaign Finance Manual.
    For those who have made much ado of the amount ($857.42) spent on suits, please allow me to point out the obvious plural that is either being overlooked or ignored; the line expenditure clearly states, “Suits/Jackets required for session.” There are clearly multiple suits and multiple jackets; otherwise there would be no need for the “s”. Mr. Burr did not purchase $800 suits, he purchased suits and jackets that totaled a little over $800.
    I would like to commend Rep. Burr for the excellent job he is doing in Raleigh. Rep. Burr demonstrates an impeccable work ethic, true dedication, and tremendous drive. The Speaker of the NC House has taken notice of these traits in Rep. Burr and placed Burr on multiple key committees and Rep. Burr holds leadership roles within these committees. Rep. Burr is representing this district well in the House. NC House members receive a meager salary of $13,951 and are paid $104 each day the House is in session. My speculation is that if we divided this amount by the amount of hours Rep. Burr has spent representing us, we would realize that Rep Burr has worked tirelessly for us for less than minimum wage.

  4. David Morgan

    November 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Karmen L. Mock Phillips, President of the Stanly County Republican
    Women and Secretary of the Stanly County Republican Party expressed her opinion
    that North Carolina Representative Justin Burr (R, Stanly, Montgomery,Union)
    “has worked tirelessly for us for less than minimum wage.” (opinion
    http://www.thesnaponline.com)

    She points out that NC House Representatives work for “a meager salary of
    $13,951 and are paid $104 each day the House is in session.”

    Well, the yearly salary and the daily per diem for meals and lodging is correct;
    however, Mrs. Phillips was either misled, doesn’t know or failed to report
    Representative Burr’s total compensation as a member of the North Carolina
    House.

    According to North Carolina’s Conservative Voice, Civitas Institute, during the
    last “long session” (2009) of the legislature, in addition to his $13,951 annual
    salary, Representative Burr’s $104 daily per diem amounted to $21,216 for the
    year. Also, he received a monthly expense allowance of $559 which amounted to
    $6,708 for the year and he was reimbursed a total of $1,988 for travel expense
    for the year. Total payment from the State of North Carolina to Representative
    Justin Burr for the year 2009 was $43,863.

    During the “short session” (2010) Representative Burr still received his annual
    salary, his daily per diem, his monthly expense allowance and his travel
    reimbursement.

    This year is another “long session” of the legislature. If Representative Burr
    completes his service through December 31st, 2011 he will have received a salary
    total of $13,951 and a monthly expense total of $6,708. So far this year,
    according to the North Carolina Controller of Financial Services, the $104 daily
    per diem for meals and lodging paid to Representative Burr is $19,240 and he has
    been reimbursed $2,348 for travel. That adds up to $42,247 if he doesn’t
    participate as a legislator the rest of the year.

    Seems like this is a far cry from what Mrs. Phillips considers minimum wage. The
    daily per diem for meals and lodging and the travel reimbursement are income tax
    free. Another benefit to Representative Burr is access to health insurance
    through the State Health Plan.

    In defending Representative Burr’s campaign expenditure of $857.42 to Brooks
    Brothers for “suits / jackets required for session,” as disclosed and described
    in his campaign report, she points out that “there are clearly multiple suits
    and multiple jackets; otherwise there would be no need for the S.”

    That assumption may be correct; however, the point is not the quantity of
    clothing items but that $857.42 was spent from campaign contributions for
    clothes at Brooks Brothers in Raleigh.

    Added to that, what might be considered unethical, if not illegal, expenditure
    is $390.39 for office lamps and rugs from Lowe’s in Raleigh, $356.91 for 1/2 of
    washer/dryer for Raleigh apartment from Rep. David Guice, $400.00 for picture
    frames from History Museum Shop in Raleigh, $1,779.78 for office furniture from
    D.A.K’s. in Carthage and $3,202.50 to himself for Raleigh rent.

    A more complete disclosure of Representative Burr’s income and campaign
    expenditures is refreshing.