“The basic rule is, whatever happens on the taxpayer dime should be serving your constituents,” says Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
Distinguishing between a candidate and an official can be complicated, and so can navigating local, state and federal law
It’s hard to say definitely where the public official ends and the campaigner begins, Levinson says.
“It’s all a line drawn in the sand on a windy day.... Those lines can be difficult because elected officials are public servants, but they’re also political animals.”
To illustrate the problem, Levinson poses a scenario: Should a mayor’s security detail be allowed to accompany him, for instance, to a fundraising event? “If we decide as a public that it’s important to protect this person and keep them safe, then that would be true regardless of what the elected official is doing,” Levinson says. “But the taxpayers are then facilitating a political activity.”