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WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed accidentally paid a Steuben County tax bill out of campaign funds last year, but he insisted Tuesday that the mistake – which broke House ethics rules but which he quickly corrected – will not happen again.

Responding to a report by Rochester television station WHAM, Reed said Tuesday that the mistake occurred because he kept blank personal checks and blank checks from his campaign account in the same folder.

“The checks are of the same color; they are from the same bank,” said Reed, a Corning Republican. “I accidentally grabbed the wrong check when I cut the check and mailed it in.”

The check, for $4,247.83, was paid to Steuben County in April 2012. Reed’s campaign voluntarily reported the error in a campaign finance report filed at the end of June last year.

“Immediately upon discovery of the mistake, and within the same reporting period, the candidate reimbursed the campaign the same amount,” Reed’s congressional campaign said in a June 2012 memo to the Federal Election Commission.

In addition, Reed’s campaign produced a recent letter to Reed from M&T Bank’s Corning branch confirming that he had enough funds in his personal account to cover the tax bill at the time he paid it out of campaign funds.

Federal law and House ethics rules bar lawmakers from using campaign funds for most personal matters, and House rules state that a candidate “shall keep his campaign funds separate from his personal funds.” This means that if Reed had not corrected the mistake, the FEC and the House Ethics Committee could have launched investigations.

After discovering the error, Reed said, he took steps to prevent such mistakes from happening again. He said that he no longer carries campaign checks with him and that his campaign now has an “independent verification process” to make sure bills are being paid properly.

News of the tax mistake comes weeks after The Buffalo News reported that Reed – a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee – paid real estate taxes late 38 times since 2005 on his personal and investment properties in Steuben and Chemung counties.

The tax issue is likely to come up in what’s expected to be a heated 2014 campaign between Reed and Martha Robertson, of Dryden, chairwoman of the Tompkins County Legislature and the Democratic Party’s likely candidate for Congress in the 23rd District.

In the wake of Reed’s tax troubles, a crowd of protesters showed up at Reed’s Corning office Friday to demand that an audit be performed on his congressional office spending.

However, no problems have surfaced with Reed’s congressional office spending, which he reports to the House Clerk’s Office and is public record.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com