By Brian Tumulty, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Republican Rep. Tom Reed of Corning said Monday he welcomes the federal review that an Ontario County Democratic leader is seeking into his use of campaign funds to pay property taxes.
"We welcome the review and we'll just continue to let the processes of Washington, D.C., come to their conclusion, which I think will show we did the right thing based on this mistake,'' Reed told reporters in a conference call.
Reed, a former mayor of Corning, last month described the April 2012 payment of $4,247.83 as "an unfortunate clerical error.''
John Hurley, chairman of the county Democratic Party, said the error demonstrates "a lack of discipline and a lack of personal responsibility'' by Reed.
"It may have been inadvertent,'' Hurley said in an interview. "It may not have been. I'm saying it ought to be looked at. It's a violation, regardless of intent. It's a responsibility of members of Congress to keep their personal funds separate of their campaign funds.''
The payment to the Steuben County Treasurer was for property taxes on Reed's Finger Lakes vacation home along Lake Keuka in Pulteney.
Separate complaints will be filed with the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Congressional Ethics for possible violations of federal election laws and congressional ethics rules, Hurley said.
Reed took personal responsibility for the mistake, noting it was promptly corrected.
"It was a mistake I did,'' Reed said. "And at the time, I had campaign checks in my possession at the same time I had personal checks. And they were in a folder and they looked exactly the same. And I accidentally grabbed the wrong check.''
Reed said there's almost no chance the mistake will happen again, because "going forward, I don't physically possess the campaign checks.''
Reed's campaign publicly disclosed the mistake, somewhat cryptically, in a June 2012 campaign finance report that listed an "inadvert. disb. Cty. Treas.,'' which means "inadvertent disbursement to the county treasurer.''
The campaign also filed a memo with the FEC explaining that "a campaign check (which was similar in appearance to a personal check) was mistakenly written to pay a $4,247.83 tax bill.''
"Immediately upon discovery of the mistake, and within the same reporting period, the candidate reimbursed the campaign the same amount,'' the memo said.
The repayment, dated May 22, 2012, was listed as a contribution by Reed to his own campaign in the receipts section of the report, but on a summary sheet it was listed under "other receipts.''
Reed said Monday the report's terminology was necessary because of software limitations.
"You are restricted by the number of letters and characters that you can use,'' he said. "That's why we felt it was also important to file concurrently with that an independent memo detailing the disbursement even further.''
Rochester TV station WHAM first reported the mistake last month.
In a follow up report on Aug. 29, WGRZ-TV and Gannett newspapers reported on the cryptic terminology used by Reed's campaign in its filing with the FEC.
Hurley alleges that the terminology used by the campaign "purposefully attempted to obfuscate the true purpose of the disbursement. That description fails to clearly disclose to the public the reason for the disbursement or what the campaign spent its funds on. Even if Rep. Reed's violations were not intentional, the facts warrant further scrutiny into Rep. Reed's actions.''
Hurley also said he was alarmed last month when the Buffalo News reported Reed made 38 late payments of property taxes on his homes and other real estate.
Reed "knew the importance of paying taxes on time'' as a former mayor and as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee with jurisdiction over tax policy, Hurley said.
Gannett Washington Bureau