Not ‘really rich,’ Trump's veep pick used campaign dollars to pay golf fees
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has bragged he could get a billion-dollar campaign loan simply by walking into a bank. But the personal finances of his new running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, are not much better than those of Gov. Scott Walker. In fact, Pence retired from politics for a decade after revelations that he’d dipped into campaign funds to pay his mortgage, his golf greens fees and his wife’s car payments.
Though independent appraisals of Trump’s net worth have concluded he’s worth less than the $10 billion he claims, Trump will soon be the wealthiest person to receive a major party’s nomination and has made his fortune a campaign issue.
“I’m really rich,” Trump declared last June in announcing his presidential run. In the months since, he has mocked Bernie Sanders for his small personal finance statement.
But Trump’s new running mate is probably doing less well than the Vermont socialist turned Democrat.
During his time in Congress, Pence carried four mortgages on his homes in Indiana and northern Virginia. When Pence left Congress in early 2013, he and his wife’s net worth, excluding the value of their Indiana home, was less than $300,000, according to calculations based on his federal financial disclosures. The average net worth for Pence’s fellow members of Congress at that time was more than $5 million.
Personal financial maneuvers nearly ended Pence’s political career before it even began.
In 1990, during an ultimately unsuccessful bid for Congress, Pence used campaign contributions to pay for personal expenses, including his mortgage, his wife’s car payment, a personal credit card, parking tickets, groceries and golf greens fees.
Federal Election Commission documents show that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a complaint against Pence and three other candidates after newspapers flagged the self-payments.
At the time, Pence defended the expenses, saying he took a 30 percent pay cut to run for office. The year before he ran, Pence, a lawyer, reported earning more than $75,000 and held about $50,000 in stock.
“I’m not embarrassed that I need to make a living,” Pence told the Daily Journal of Franklin, Indiana, at the time in response to questions about his campaign expenses.
Pence’s campaign didn’t dispute paying the personal expenses but argued they were allowed under federal law.
The National Republican Congressional Committee also defended Pence’s campaign spending, saying it was necessary to make up for income lost while campaigning full-time.
On Friday, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller wrote in an email that the FEC’s general counsel’s office found Pence was “100 percent compliant with the law at the time.”
Miller referred to written recommendations to the commission signed by Lois G. Lerner, the FEC’s associate general counsel, who handled Pence’s case.
Lerner, who later moved to the Internal Revenue Service, came under intense scrutiny from congressional Republicans in recent years for her role in the IRS’ treatment of conservative groups’ tax-exempt status. Lerner, who has since retired, was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before a House committee.
In Pence’s case, the FEC deadlocked 3–3 over whether his expenses violated federal campaign law. The commission did vote unanimously to have its general counsel study the personal use of campaign funds and determine whether the situation showed a need for additional regulations. Subsequent actions in the 1990s further specified what constituted an illegal personal expense.
Former FEC chairman Scott E. Thomas, a Democrat who now practices in the Washington office of law firm Blank Rome, was one of the three commissioners who voted to find Pence in violation of federal campaign law.
Thomas said Friday that the Pence case was one example of the type of behavior the commission worked to weed out.
“Donors expect their campaign contributions to be used for election purposes. They don’t just want to provide funds to some candidate so they can pay personal expenses,” Thomas said.
Lee Ann Elliott, a former Republican commissioner and commission chair, voted against sanctioning Pence, citing past commission decisions that gave campaigns “wide discretion” to spend their money.
Elliott said Friday that she didn’t remember Pence’s case but noted the commission handled several like it in the early 1990s, when regulations weren’t as specific on what qualified as banned personal expenses. By the time she left the commission in 2000, expenses like those Pence paid with campaign funds were specifically barred.
“They weren’t allowed, flat out,” she said.
Because Indiana releases little information about officeholders’ personal finances, Pence’s current fortunes will remain unclear until he files a new personal disclosure with the Federal Election Commission.
Though Pence and Trump came to politics with different financial fortunes, they do share one thing in common: Like Trump, Pence has never released his taxes.
Unlike Trump, however, Pence’s taxes are unlikely to contain much of interest. In the four years since becoming Indiana’s governor, Pence has received a state salary of just under $112,000 a year. His wife — a self-employed watercolor artist — recently sought and received permission from the state ethics commission to start a business out of the governor’s mansion, selling towel charms for $6.25 apiece.
As U.S. vice president, Pence would earn more than $230,000 per year.