CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | On May 1, Rep. Eric Swalwell made a strategic vote in Congress. That day he and South Bay Rep. Zoe Lofgren, were the only members of the Bay Area Democratic caucus to vote for a Republican-led amendment to a budget bill that would have forbidden members from using their congressional office budgets to lease personal cars. The amendment offered by Rep. Richard Nugent, a member of the Tea Party from Florida, was narrowly defeated, but Swalwell was one of only 59 Democrats to support it. Was this yet another case of Swalwell showing his moderate colors? In fact, the vote may have been a calculated risk by Swalwell with an eye on re-election this fall in the 15th District.

Back in December 2012, the Associated Press published a story asserting several members of the California State Legislature spent thousands of taxpayers’ dollars for repairs to their government leased vehicles. The benefit was soon to be discontinued due to the continuing state budget crisis. Legislators were then offered the option of buying the leased vehicles later, but not before some, including Corbett, received repairs paid by the state. According to the AP article, Corbett’s 2007 Toyota Prius received $827 in replacement parts and servicing before she bought the car a few days later.

The story has long been on Swalwell’s radar even before he was sworn-in to office in January 2013. On the day the article was published, Swalwell tweeted this terse statement. “Lawmakers deserve no better treatment than anyone else. When you’re elected, the public should be serviced, not your car.” The tweet seemed oddly desperate for a freshman congressman, just weeks after a rousing upset of a 40-year incumbent, to be attacking his potential opponent more than a year before his re-election campaign would actually begin. Corbett, though, had been telling supporters she would run for Congress in 2014 even before Swalwell’s upset victory in November.

Earlier this month, news of the Nugent amendment led to reports 63 members of Congress used a somewhat similar and legal rule to pay personal car leases with their office’s operating budget. In the Bay Area, Reps. Barbara Lee, George Miller and Anna Eshoo pay leases ranging from $500-$600 per month. Swalwell voted against the rule and, in hindsight, its appears to be a trap. A few weeks later, Swalwell’s campaign is already using the Corbett car lease story in one mailer and television ad released last week as part of a larger argument that Corbett is “gaming the system.”