From humble ward gatherings to elaborate, televised events organized by the White House, town hall meetings have become a staple of political life. In recent weeks, Josh Mandel, the Ohio treasurer, has sought advice about a relatively new wrinkle, town hall meetings conducted over the telephone, his office sending invitations to participate in a conference call.

In a formal opinion issued last week, Mike DeWine gave Mandel the go-ahead to use public funds to hold “tele-town hall” meetings. The state attorney general noted that town hall meetings are “a well-established hallmark of a representative democracy.” He also pointed to U.S. Supreme Court decisions holding that “the First Amendment’s protection of elected officials’ speech is robust and no less strenuous than that afforded to the speech of citizens.”

Thus, Mandel is pursuing a technological update of a common practice. Any boundaries? He can discuss the activities of his office or “a matter of general interest to the citizens of Ohio.” If a constituent asks about a specific subject, he can answer. That said, political matters are off limits. DeWine added that Mandel must take calls from citizens not invited to participate.

What’s troublesome is not the attorney general’s reasoning but Mandel’s history of blurring the lines between his official duties and campaigning. Mandel took office in January 2011. Soon, he was all but consumed about running against U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Mandel caught failing to attend to his official duties. Once the race was over, Mandel continued to drive a vehicle owned by the Senate campaign, the incident coming to light after an accident.

Mandel said his state treasurer’s campaign fund was leasing the vehicle, but a check wasn’t written until after the accident, a possible violation of federal law. The Senate campaign later sold the vehicle, ending an insurance review that might have clarified matters. Mandel has yet to schedule a telephonic town hall. When he does, close scrutiny will be necessary to make sure that the taxpayer dollars he says he zealously guards won’t be abused by raw political ambition.