By Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Alice Crites | 15 July 2016
THE WASHINGTON POST — Mike Pence was a young lawyer on the rise, challenging a longtime Democratic congressman in a Republican-leaning Indiana district.
And then, scandal.
Campaign finance records from the 1990 effort showed that Pence, then 31, had been using political donations to pay the mortgage on his house, his personal credit card bill, groceries, golf tournament fees and car payments for his wife.
The spending had not been illegal at the time. But it stunned voters — and undermined Pence’s strategy to portray the incumbent, Rep. Philip R. Sharp, as tainted by donations from special-interest political action committees.
“It was a brazen act of hypocrisy,” said Billy Linville, who was Sharp’s campaign manager. “It was a bombshell, for sure. . . . Without question, he may well have won the election if it had not been for that.”
Pence’s early stumble proved to be a defining moment, prompting a period of public remorse that helped create the wholesome image many Republicans now say makes him an ideal running mate to counterbalance the bombastic Donald Trump.
In the months after that 1990 defeat, Pence waged a statewide apology tour and disavowed negative campaigning. He told a local reporter that using campaign funds for personal expenses had been “an exercise in naivete.”
Pence’s 1990 race also led to key changes in campaign finance policies. Experts say that subsequent rules passed by the Federal Election Commission barring the use of campaign funds for personal needs were the direct result of ethics concerns raised by Pence’s actions. […]