file photo of Rep. Bill Young speaking with reporters
PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida - A 10 News investigation into Bill Young's campaign account reveals the inner circle of the late Congressman spent tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign account after Young had passed away.
The $55,377 in fourth-quarter expenditures - including expensive dinners, large receptions, and hotel bills - surpassed any other quarter's campaign spending in 2013, despite the fact that Young publicly announced plans to retire on October 9. He passed away nine days later, on Oct. 18.
But just three days after Young's death, on Oct. 21, someone with a campaign credit card spent $902 at Indian Rocks Beach's Salt Rock Grill, according to federal filings. The expense was listed as "meals for campaign workers/volunteers."
Questions to former Young staffers were forwarded to the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC), a Washington DC-based organization committed to getting Republicans elected to Congress.
Young's campaign also reported a $13,978 expenditure for a campaign worker/volunteer reception at the Sheraton Sand Key resort in Clearwater. The NRCC said the event took place the day after Young's death and was for the Congressman's long-time campaign volunteers to comfort each other.
As 10 Investigates reported in November, federal election finance laws give great freedom to how campaigns spend their warchests, so almost any expenditures having to do with a campaign are legal.
However, campaign expenditures following a candidate's death raise eyebrows, according to Washington D.C.-based watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
"After a member of Congress has died, there's not a lot of reason for campaigns to continue spending money," said Melanie Sloan, CREW's Executive Director.
The campaign also spent $12,250 on October and November hotel stays in - and around - Bethesda, Md., where Young ultimately passed away at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The NRCC indicated this was for "about 7" of the Congressman's closest friends and aides to stay while he was sick and discussing his future, but wouldn't identify who the guests were.
"In accordance with Congressman Young's wishes, his longtime political advisers joined him at Walter Reed after he fell ill in October," said Katie Prill, a NRCC spokeswoman, in a prepared statement. "These campaign workers of the Congressman have served him well throughout the years on many campaigns."
According to the NRCC, there has been no one on the campaign's payroll except longtime treasurer George Patterson, who would not be made available for comment. The NRCC also wasn't sure who ultimately would decide how the campaign's remaining $134,151 (as of Jan. 1) would be spent.
But in November, the campaign made a $2,000 campaign contribution to former Young aide David Jolly, now running to fill the vacant seat in Congressional District 13. It also processed more than $50,000 in refunds to donors in November.
Legally, campaigns of deceased lawmakers can donate assets to charity, other campaigns, or offer refunds.
"People need to keep track of what their money is being spent on when they make campaign contributions. They should insist it be spent on legitamite campaign expenses," Sloan said, adding that the loopholes are a result of Congress policing itself and refusing to tighten campaign finance laws.
Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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