The campaign of Rep. Michael Wray, the House deputy Democratic leader, racked up $28,737 in fuel charges between July 2011 and June 2013, according to an analysis of his campaign finance reports by the NC Insider, a state government news service owned by The N&O.
Most of the 427 fuel purchases were at gas stations between northeastern North Carolina, where Wray lives in Gaston, and the Triangle. The campaign reported buying enough gas in two years to travel well over 100,000 miles.
During those two years, his campaign committee also reported spending for meals and other food purchases at least 177 times, totaling nearly $17,700 an average of about $100 a meal.
Wray, who is in his fifth term, serves as his own campaign treasurer. He said all of the campaign spending designated as fuel went for gas related to his campaign or his legislative office as allowed under state law.
He explained the fuel charges this way: He commutes between his home in Gaston and Raleigh each day 180 miles roundtrip during sessions and regularly drives around his large district, visiting constituents at barber shops, churches, schools and other locations, and attending political and campaign functions and other community events. He represents Halifax and Northampton counties.
To represent the people, you have to go throughout the district and see them, he said. It just takes time to do it. It takes gas to do it at the same time.
But Wray, who drives a Yukon XL sport-utility vehicle with 265,000 miles on it, added, I need to get a more economical car.
Paying campaign workers
Wray also said he has bought gas for campaign workers, although there doesnt appear to be any indication in his reports that any fuel spending went toward such reimbursements.
It wasnt fair for them to have to pull it out of their pocket because they didnt have the money to do it, he said. He added that people sometimes go to events in his place and that he pays for their gas.
As for the food purchases, Wray said he regularly eats on the road during his travels and sometimes dines with constituents and picks up the tab. He also pays for meals for poll workers and other campaign workers, he said. His campaign reports also show that he paid for meals for the House Democratic Caucus, including $3,200 in early June 2012 at The Pitt in Raleigh and $222 at Sams Club for another caucus dinner in September 2012. A small percentage of the meals Wray reported cost less than $30.
More detail wanted
But the food and fuel purchases werent just made in and around elections or during legislative sessions when increased spending might be expected. In the second half of 2011, for example, with the legislature not in session and the primary election still months away, Wrays campaign reported spending $6,237 on 98 fuel purchases. Thats more than one purchase every other day,.
On May 6, the campaign purchased gas three times, twice at Sheetz in Morrisville and once at Shell in Roanoke Rapids. Combined, the Wray campaign spent $210 on fuel that day, enough to travel nearly 800 miles, or more than four round trips between his house and Raleigh. It was a Monday, and Wray voted on bills that evening in the House chamber.
In the first six months of this year, Wrays campaign reported purchasing fuel 14 times in January, 14 times in February, 17 times in March, 19 times in April, 16 times in May and 10 times in June. Thats 90 purchases, costing his campaign $6,844, an average of $76 a purchase. During the same period, Wray bought gas twice on the same day eight times. Rarely during the two years does the campaign go more than a few days without making a gas purchase.
Jane Pinsky, director of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform, said the Wray situation is an example of why candidates should have to disclose more information on their reports describing exactly how they spend contributions. For fuel expenses, for example, Pinsky said, she would want to know where and how far the candidate was driving and why. She said she has to submit such details with her expense reports.
Its possible the legislator has done wonderful things with this money, but we just need more clarity on it, she said.
She was skeptical about the gas spending, however.
But unless his car gets a lot worse gas mileage than my full-size conversion van, he did an awful lot of traveling, she said.
Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. For more information, visit www.ncinsider.com.