The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and a tour company named Citslinc International have put together one sweet sightseeing deal this fall — a 9-day trip “to experience the wonders of China” for just $1,999. (Non-chamber members pay $100 more.)

Among the 300 folks signed up so far: Raleigh City Councilors Mary-Ann Baldwin and Nancy McFarlane. McFarlane says she’s paying her own way because it’s sightseeing. Baldwin, though, says it’s an economic development trip, and she’s paying for it with contributors’ money from her campaign account, including a $1,799 check to the Chamber reported on her most recent campaign finance report. (See below the fold.)

McFarlane, the District A (North Raleigh) member, is running unopposed for re-election. But Baldwin isn’t. She’s in a four-way contest (Russ Stephenson is the other incumbent) for the two at-large Council seats. And one of her at-large challengers, Lee Sartain, thinks Baldwin should be paying her own way too. “It’s sight-seeing,” he said to us, “not an economic development trip.”

Baldwin disagrees. “This is an economic development trip sponsored by the Chamber to promote Raleigh as a great city in which to invest, hire, and do business, so of course it is related to my Council duties,” she said in a written response to our question. She continued:

“I believe that all members of the Council were invited to participate. As the trip is related to my duties as an officeholder, it is a permissible campaign expense pursuant to N.C.G.S § 163-278.16B(2).”

The relevant law on how campaign funds can be used is broad (though not as broad as ex-Rep. Ty Harrell wanted it to be when he was buying dinners for a woman who is neither a campaign aide nor his wife). But basically it says you can spend contributed funds for campaign expenses (touring China? probably not allowed in a Raleigh council race) or on expenditures “resulting from holding office.” That’s what Baldwin is saying: This trip to see the sights in China “results” from — helps her carry out, in other words — her official duties.

We posted the text of the statute below.

According to the Chamber, no other Council members are taking the trip. The brochure for it makes clear that it is for sight-seeing, including excursions to the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the National Embroidery Institute and so on. It didn’t seem like there was any economic development outreach to it — McFarlane didn’t think so, anyway.

You can look at the brochure here:

Folks are going in three waves. The first two leave October 24 and 25; the third goes November 12. There are still some slots available for the third one. Don’t know if Baldwin’s confident enough of re-election to have signed up for an October departure. If the October 6 race results in a runofff, she might need to be here then.

The law on campaign spending is below the fold, along with Baldwin’s disclosure.

§ 163‑278.16B. Use of contributions for certain purposes.

(a) A candidate or candidate campaign committee may use contributions only for the following purposes:

(1) Expenditures resulting from the campaign for public office by the candidate or candidate’s campaign committee.

(2) Expenditures resulting from holding public office.

(3) Donations to an organization described in section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (26 U.S.C. § 170(c)), provided that the candidate or the candidate’s spouse, children, parents, brothers, or sisters are not employed by the organization.

(4) Contributions to a national, State, or district or county committee of a political party or a caucus of the political party.

(5) Contributions to another candidate or candidate’s campaign committee.

(6) To return all or a portion of a contribution to the contributor.

(7) Payment of any penalties against the candidate or candidate’s campaign committee for violation of this Article imposed by a board of elections or a court of competent jurisdiction.

(8) Payment to the Escheat Fund established by Chapter 116B of the General Statutes.

(b) As used in this section, the term “candidate campaign committee” means the same as in G.S. 163‑278.38Z(3).

(c) Contributions made to a candidate or candidate campaign committee do not become a part of the personal estate of the individual candidate. The candidate may file with the board a written designation of those funds that directs to which of the permitted uses in subsection (a) of this section they shall be paid in the event of the death or incapacity of the candidate. After the payment of permitted outstanding debts of the account, the candidate’s filed written designation shall control. If the candidate files no such written designation, the funds after payment of permitted outstanding debts shall be distributed in accordance with subdivision (a)(8) of this section. (2006‑161, s. 1; 2007‑391, s. 30; 2008‑187, s. 33(a); 2008‑213, s. 87.)