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There Goes the Maserati

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) wants to put a stop to Members using their annual office allowances to pay for long-term car leases. And he has introduced a bill to do just that.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sensenbrenner said the bill was spurred by a New York Times story earlier this month that found that dozens of Members use taxpayer dollars to pay for cars. The monthly costs — which can reach more than $800 — are paid with their Members Representational Allowance, an annual stipend that covers staffers’ salaries and office expenses.

“The leasing of very expensive cars and foreign cars, in my opinion, is an abuse,” said Sensenbrenner, who instead reimburses employees for mileage and gas when a car is used for official purposes.

Sensenbrenner said he didn’t know how much his office spent a month on those reimbursements or whether it exceeded the cost of a leased car.

But he said that leasing a car poses more problems than just the cost — it can muddle the line between official duties and campaign functions.

If leasing is forbidden, he said, Members will more clearly separate the financial difference between driving to an official event, making a campaign stop and going on a personal trip.

“That way, you don’t have a problem of having a government lease and the car being used to go to a political event,” he said. “You just eliminate a lot of accounting problems.”

The House Administration Committee is considering the bill, which so far has no co-sponsors. Although the committee can change the dollar amount of MRAs, and enforce a few other restrictions, this specific decision on how MRA money would be used would need to pass the House floor, committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said.

The rule now is that Members can rent a car as long as they take responsibility for the lease after their term is up.

They can also use it to go to unofficial functions if they are “generally along the route of a day’s official itinerary” and minimal in price and nature.

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