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Rangel Reports Big ’09 Legal Expenses

Among the five House lawmakers known to be under investigation by the House ethics committee, only Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) has reported payments to attorneys in the first half of this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly referred to as the ethics panel, announced in late June it is investigating whether privately sponsored travel to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008 violated House gift rules.

An investigative subcommittee assigned to the matter focused its review on Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), as well as Rangel.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, which is tasked with reviewing potential rules violations and referring matters to the ethics panel, had similarly reviewed the trip earlier this year and recommended the House committee investigate those five lawmakers.

But only Rangel, who is also the subject of another unrelated ethics investigation into his personal finances and fundraising efforts, has reported payments to attorneys to date from his campaign coffers.

Rangel doled out $723,000 in the first half of 2009, including $279,000 in payments made in the second quarter.

The Ways and Means chairman has made payments to several firms, including Zuckerman Spaeder, which is representing Rangel before the ethics committee, as well as Watkins, Meegan, Drury & Co., which is conducting a “forensic audit” of Rangel’s personal finances at his request.

Another House Member who has faced investigation by the OCE, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), reported a single payment to Perkins Coie in June for about $3,700.

Jackson acknowledged earlier this year he faced an OCE investigation over his ties to disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is accused by federal investigators of choreographing a pay-to-play scheme to auction an open Illinois Senate seat in late 2008.

The Illinois lawmaker has paid attorney James Montgomery $115,000 since late December but did not report any new payments in the most recent FEC reports, covering the second quarter of 2009.

Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), who faces a Senate Ethics Committee investigation over his conflicting accounts of how he was appointed to that same Senate seat, had not filed a second-quarter FEC report by Monday afternoon. Burris has announced he will not seek a full Senate term in 2010.

Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), who announced in May that his offices and aides had been served with subpoenas by federal investigators examining the lawmaker’s relationship with the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group, reported spending about $1,900 to Perkins Coie in the second quarter. The FBI raided the PMA Group in November, reportedly as part of an investigation of improper campaign contributions.

Visclosky, who received consent from the FEC in June to pay legal fees related to the subpoenas from his campaign funds, has requested permission from the FEC to pay legal bills for current and former staffers as well.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who faces legal scrutiny for his relationship with an oil services company and a transportation project in Florida, reported spending more than $37,000 to multiple law firms in the second quarter, as well as racking up $46,000 in debt to the D.C.-based law firm Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing.

Young’s legal defense fund, however, reported no income or expenditures in its June 30 report to the Office of the Clerk.

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