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Istook Audit Uncovers Numerous Violations

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Former Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook improperly spent nearly $7,000 in campaign funds on personal items, including a trip to the 2004 Sugar Bowl, according to a Federal Election Commission audit of Istook's 2004 re-election campaign.

The FEC audit, which was provided by Istook to The Oklahoman, uncovered numerous other financial violations, the newspaper reported from its Washington Bureau.

In 2003 and 2004, Istook's campaign took donations from corporations, which are prohibited; took excessive contributions from some donors; failed to provide the required information for some donors; failed to disclose more than $26,000 in last-minute contributions; and repeatedly misstated its receipts and expenditures, the audit says.

Among the nearly $7,000 worth of personal items improperly purchased with campaign funds were CDs, jewelry, airfare, groceries and gas, in addition to the Sugar Bowl trip, according to the audit. For some of the items, including the jewelry and groceries, Istook said he accidentally used the campaign credit card instead of his own.

In regard to the Sugar Bowl trip to New Orleans, Istook argued that he had campaign and official business set up with the trip, including fundraisers and trips to nearby shipbuilding yards that get federal money from a subcommittee he led. But those events were canceled.

The audit concluded, ``Absent documentation or other pertinent information sufficient to support that these expenses were for campaign-related or officeholder activity, the audit staff maintains that these $1,861 in expenses paid for by (the campaign) were for personal use.''

Istook and his former campaign manager, Kyle Loveless, have made or have promised to make reimbursements to the campaign account for the $7,000. The campaign was able to provide documentation proving that another $2,000 in expenses were campaign related, according to the audit.

The FEC has not announced whether Istook's campaign will be fined or if other enforcement action might be taken.

Istook, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year and served 14 years in the U.S. House, is now a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Republican think tank in Washington.

While keeping the campaign books is a task generally delegated to staff members, Istook declined to blame anyone in particular for the numerous problems.

In e-mails to The Oklahoman, Istook acknowledged that ``the campaign made mistakes in its bookkeeping and filings. I stressed to staff the need for timely and accurate compliance, but I accept responsibility for their mistakes. The buck stops with me.''
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