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Members Shell Out for Legal Help

More than a dozen sitting and former House Members — including at least two who do not appear to be under investigation — made significant legal payments from their campaign accounts in the first three months of the year, according to new Federal Election Commission filings.

Natural Resources ranking member Don Young (R-Alaska) reported a $25,000 payment to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, but his campaign manager said it was a precautionary measure and did not pertain to an investigation.

“In this day and age with all of the accusations and innuendos, we wanted to err on the side of caution,” said Steve Dougherty, adding that Young has put the firm on retainer.

Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) also reported paying $29,000 in legal fees to Wiley Rein. Steve Shearer, Weller’s campaign manager, said it did not pertain to an investigation. Weller tapped legal counsel during the 2006 campaign season to respond to corruption allegations and other criticisms from his opponent.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy reported a $15,600 payment to McGuireWoods law firm. His office had not responded by press time.

Last year’s ethics committee investigation into ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) cost a handful of lawmakers hefty legal bills during the first quarter of 2007. Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) — who served as Speaker during the Foley saga — reported six payments totaling $70,000 to McKenna Long & Aldridge, the law firm of Hastert’s counsel Randy Evans. Hastert also reported a debt of $52,000 to the firm that has yet to be paid.

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) reported two payments totaling $26,000 to Patton Boggs, which also was related to the Foley investigation. As for Foley himself, he paid nearly $206,000 in legal fees to Zuckerman Spaeder but retains a hefty campaign account with more than $1.7 million in cash on hand.

In a separate ethics committee investigation, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) reported two payments totaling $23,000 to Patton Boggs for legal counsel regarding a Jack Abramoff-related trip he took to Scotland in August 2003. Ethics ruled in January that the trip was improper and fined Feeney $5,643 to be paid to the Treasury.

Former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who is under FBI investigation and also was fined by the ethics committee in January for taking an improper trip, paid $132,000 in legal fees to five different law firms in the first quarter and reported $33,000 in cash on hand.

Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who squeaked out an election victory amid a federal investigation into his relationship with Abramoff, paid more than $10,000 to Wiley Rein and owes the firm an additional $16,000. Doolittle reported debts of $173,000 — $126,000 of which is owed to the fundraising firm of his wife, Julie — and $91,000 in cash on hand.

Other Members under investigation include Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who paid $5,000 for legal services to attorney Grant Woods and reported a debt of more than $103,000 to Patton Boggs.

Renzi reported significant overall debt of $495,000, but most of that stems from loans he has made to himself since his 2002 election. Renzi is a wealthy land developer and is under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona for his role in a land deal.

Two members of the Appropriations Committee also apparently remain under federal investigation. The panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), faces scrutiny for his ties to a lobbying firm. Lewis reported more than $10,000 to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

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