BOSTON (AP) – Incoming House Speaker Robert DeLeo used the soaring campaign donations he received as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee to pay for everything from office parties to car lease payments, according to an Associated Press review of campaign finance reports.

Among the bills covered by DeLeo’s campaign account during the past two years were an $11,100 holiday party in 2007 and a slew of car-related expenses including: $13,751 in lease payments, $4,346 for gas, $2,345 for insurance, $1,189 for tolls and $372 for parking.

A spokesman for DeLeo said the car was used to help conduct committee business and when DeLeo used it for personal reasons, he reimbursed his campaign account. During the past two years, DeLeo repaid his committee more than $4,300 in car expenses.

“The car has been used for events and conversations in communities from Adams to Eastham, Concord to New Bedford,” said DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell. “The Speaker has complied with all campaign finance rules.”

While allowed under the state’s broad campaign finance laws, the campaign expenses are a window into just how much DeLeo’s political fortunes soared as head of the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the House version of the state budget. Those fortunes stand to improve even more as DeLeo steps into one of the three most powerful posts on Beacon Hill.

In 2003, the year before Salvatore DiMasi became House Speaker and named DeLeo chair of the committee, DeLeo raised just $46,045 in campaign donations. After taking the reins of the committee, DeLeo’s campaign coffers swelled dramatically. In the past two years, he raised more than $478,000. He ended 2008 with nearly $325,000 left in his account.

The expenses highlight one of the biggest challenges facing DeLeo and Beacon Hill – restoring faith in state leaders after a series of ethics troubles. DeLeo has said ethics reform will be one of his top issues as Speaker.

“It will take the true, personnel integrity of every elected leader to restore and maintain the people’s faith in their government,” DeLeo said in an address to House lawmakers moments after being elected Speaker on Wednesday.

The 20-year Statehouse veteran faced no competition in the primary or general elections in 2008, leaving him freer to spend the campaign cash that he accumulated from the increased donations.

Those expenses include: $11,149 for a 2007 holiday office party for the Ways and Means Committee at Davio’s Restaurant in Boston; $6,979 for a 2007 office dinner at the Plaza III Steakhouse in Boston; and $4,975 for a committee dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Boston.

He’s also spent money on more traditional campaign expenses, from political mailings and fundraisers to advertisements and donations to local charities.

The state’s campaign finance laws give candidates broad latitude in how they can spend their campaign donations.

Under the rules, a candidate can spend campaign money for “the enhancement of his or her political future” as long as the expenditure is not primarily personal.

But the spotlight on DeLeo is sharper. He takes the top job in the House after DiMasi, D-Boston, stepped down under an ethics cloud, including an ongoing investigation into alleged influence-peddling by a longtime friend. DiMasi has denied any wrongdoing.

DiMasi’s departure, coupled with the ongoing bribery investigation into former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, D-Boston, has thrust the issue of political ethics into the public eye. Wilkerson has denied the allegations against her.

Gov. Deval Patrick has filed a bill making sweeping changes to the state’s ethics laws, including dramatically increasing prison time for bribery and giving the attorney general wiretapping authority in corruption probes.

In his address to the House on Wednesday, DeLeo promised to elevate ethical standards to help regain the public’s trust.

“We will pass meaningful reforms to our ethics, lobbying and pension laws,” he said. “The people must be comfortable that we are providing the highest standard of service when it comes to public employees, be they elected or appointed.”

DeLeo did not say whether campaign finance rules would be part of that discussion.

While DeLeo’s expenses may fall within the state’s campaign finance rules, the level of spending could send the wrong message, according to Jeffrey Berry, professor of political science at Tufts University.

“The law is one thing, but appearances are another,” Berry said.

DeLeo’s address to his fellow House members came just moments after they voted 137-16 to install the Winthrop Democrat as Speaker. That vote followed a caucus during which Democratic lawmakers, who hold an overwhelming majority in the House, endorsed DeLeo on a voice vote.

DeLeo’s chief rival, Majority Leader John Rogers, D-Norwood, conceded on Tuesday that he didn’t have the votes needed to become speaker.

DeLeo said he planned to meet with Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan on Thursday to review the budget proposal unveiled by Patrick on Wednesday that included deep cuts, new taxes and drawdowns on the state’s rainy day fund.


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