Former Senate minority leader Harry Reid used leftover campaign funds to pay one of his staffers to paint a portrait of himself, campaign records show.
The painting was first displayed during Reid’s farewell ceremony last month on Capitol Hill, where top Democratic leaders including Vice President Joe Biden and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton expressed gratitude for Reid’s 30-year tenure in the chamber. It now decorates one of the walls inside the U.S. Capitol.
The Washington Free Beacon uncovered the expenditure last August, when they noticed a $7,000 check paid from Reid’s campaign committee, Friends of Harry Reid, to Gavin Glakas, one of Reid’s former staffers. Glakas had already painted a portrait of Reid’s wife Landra, which hung on a wall in his office on Capitol Hill. At the time, the Free Beacon reached out to both parties for comment but did not receive an answer.
After Reid’s farewell tribute, Glakas added the portrait of his former boss to the portrait gallery on his website, but still did not respond to a request for comment.
Although both FEC regulations and House ethics rules prohibit the use of campaign funds for “personal use,” this is not the first time a politician has used campaign funds to commission a self-portrait. In 2007, after seeking permission from the Federal Election Commission, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) paid a whopping $64,500 for a self-portrait and custom frame. The FEC issued an advisory opinion in October 2007 that Rangel’s expenditure was allowed because under current law, the U.S. House of Representatives is considered an allowable “organization,” and Rangel was not using the money for financial gain.
“The U.S. House of Representatives is an organization described in section 170(c) of Title 26 and because payment for the portrait would not financially benefit Representative Rangel or any member of his family,” the advisory opinion read.
The FEC also gave permission for political action committees to use funds in the same way, saying that “the payment would not be an in-kind contribution for the purpose of influencing any election.”
They also clarified to the Free Beacon in a statement that their advisory opinions only apply to specific requests and circumstances, or identical circumstances.
“They provide a window into how the Commission has handled the issue in the past, but candidates/committees are encouraged to file advisory opinion requests when they are uncertain about whether their proposed conduct would conform with the FECA and Commission regulations,” the statement read.