President Barack Obama was not on the ballot in 2010, but his campaign committee outspent all other presidential campaigns last year on legal fees, refunds to contributors and payments to the Treasury Department for unusable donations.
Obama for America has spent more than $2.8 million on legal fees since the 2008 election, according to a CQ MoneyLine study of Federal Election Commission records. In all, the president’s campaign spent three times more on lawyers after Election Day than in the two years preceding it.
A Democratic spokesman said in a statement that the expenses were expected and not extraordinary considering that Obama’s White House run was the largest campaign in history, taking in more than $750 million.
“The campaign has incurred ordinary legal expenses related to the wind-down of its operations and other legal services which all campaigns incur and which are proportional to the unprecedented size of this campaign,” DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan said.
The Obama campaign’s legal fees since the 2008 election top those of any other House or presidential campaign committee, including those of Members of Congress who were under investigation.
These legal costs topped those of Rep. Charlie Rangel’s campaign, which spent $2.4 million during an ethics investigation that resulted in his censure last year. The New York Democrat used the legal fees to defend himself against allegations that included misuse of federal resources, failing to pay taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic and filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms.
Rangel also used $425,000 from his political action committee to defray legal fees, which bumps his total about $300 over Obama’s.
Legal costs for presidential campaigns can balloon following Election Day as these organizations face compliance issues and sometimes court cases stemming from the campaign season.
Sevugan said some legal fees were needed to defend the campaign against “unmeritorious” suits, including one challenging Obama’s citizenship.
Legal costs for Republican nominee John McCain’s campaign and compliance committees have also increased substantially since his 2008 bid. The Arizona Senator has spent more than $1.3 million on lawyers since the election. While that amount is less than half of Obama’s post-election legal expenses, it is $200,000 more than McCain spent on legal fees before the 2008 election.
Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has nearly doubled his legal disbursements, spending $372,000 since early November 2008, while fellow presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has basically maintained her campaign’s legal spending. Since the election, her campaign has paid $541,000 in legal fees — a dip of less than 5 percent.
The lion’s share of Obama’s legal spending went to Perkins Coie, a well-known Democratic legal and accounting firm. Perkins Coie represented the Obama campaign during all seven of the FEC’s known investigations involving his White House bid. In each of these cases, the FEC voted to dismiss the case or found “no reason to believe” that the Obama for America or related committees had violated any laws.