updated 7/16/2009 6:44:57 PM ET 2009-07-16T22:44:57

Candidates can't use campaign money to improve their wardrobes, the Federal Election Commission said Thursday in a ruling that nonetheless dismissed a complaint against four congressional candidates who did just that.

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The FEC said candidates cannot use campaign money for expenses they would have had whether they were running for office or not, such as clothes. The commission said it decided against punishing the four because the amounts spent were modest and the candidates reimbursed their campaigns.

The four included two Democratic House members — Reps. Loretta Sanchez of California and Rob Andrews of New Jersey — and two former House candidates, Republicans Bill Dew of Utah and William Breazeale of North Carolina.

The ruling was released by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed the complaint against the four congressional candidates and former Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr. The FEC found that in Barr's case, a $500 expenditure for a staffer was mistakenly called a clothing allowance rather than compensation.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin made news last year after the Republican National Committee spent more than $150,000 on designer clothing and accessories for her and her family. The RNC and Palin have said many of the items were returned to stores and the rest would be given to charity.

The commission earlier this year dismissed a CREW complaint over the Palin purchases, saying the ban on use of donations to buy clothing doesn't apply to party money. The commission has asked Congress to add political party funds to the ban.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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