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TribBlog: Fair Game

State Sen. John Whitmire didn't break the law by spending $90,000 in campaign funds on sports tickets, the Texas Ethics Commission finds.

State Sen. John Whitmire speaks to reporters.

In 2008, California-based watchdog Dave Palmer filed a sworn ethics complaint against state Sen. John Whitmire, alleging that the Houston Democrat broke the law by spending campaign funds on pro sports tickets. 

Back then I worked for the Houston Chronicle, which reported on the complaint, and I helped Austin-bureau reporter Gary Scharrer by calling the senator for comment.

Whitmire defended the purchases and, as our conversation ended, joked: "Call me when you get a real story."

Apparently the Texas Ethics Commission agrees.

The panel issued a ruling last week stating that Whitmire's $90,000 in tickets to the Astros, Texans and Rockets was appropriate under the Election Code. (The law states that campaign funds can't be converted to personal use "that primarily furthers individual or family purposes not connected with the performance of duties or activities as a candidate or officeholder.")

In response to the complaint, Whitmire told the commission that he bought the season tickets "to increase political visibility and to support the arenas he had passed legislation to help construct. I gave the tickets to charity auctions, supporters and contributors, and constituents."

His argument convinced the commission, which wrote: "Since the respondent represents the Houston area it appears that there was at least some candidate or officeholder purpose behind those expenditures."

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