Rep. Patricia Jones was in an ethical dilemma.

She had just lost her race to Republican Dennis Keschl, and wondered if she could use campaign funds to pay for a plane ticket for her son, who she had summoned from Chicago to help with her campaign.

Unsure of what to do, she called an expert on the staff of the state ethics committee, who told her it would be an acceptable use of public funds.

The staff person was wrong, however, and now instead of an ethical dilemma, Jones is the focus of an ethics investigation.

There are good reasons why Jones should not have been allowed to use Maine Clean Election fund money to reimburse herself for an airline ticket. Air travel is not necessary for a Maine legislative race, and candidates’ use of public money to pay family members for work for their campaigns was the subject of much debate after Barbara Merrill hired her husband to run her publicly funded gubernatorial campaign in 2006.

That wasn’t so long ago, and maybe Jones should have remembered. But when she asked for guidance, she should have been able to rely on what she was told. Coming back to file a complaint against her for doing what she had been told was legal doesn’t help avoid future mistakes like these.

Candidates who are trying to avoid violating the law should be given the support they need to do the right thing. If the staff can’t be relied on, they shouldn’t offer an opinion.

The ethics commission should use this incident as an object lesson for candidates and their advisers about where the line should be drawn.

But the commission should not take this opportunity to teach Jones a lesson. She’s already learned a big one on the question of how little expert advice can be worth.