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On April 1, 2008, Rep. Phil Gingrey paid Mitchell Hunter, his former chief of staff, $6,000 for campaign consulting fees. That payment came one day after the Georgia Republican signed a letter to the Appropriations Committee requesting an earmark for the National Center for State Courts, which had recently hired Hunter as a lobbyist.
The center got its earmark that year — $100,000 to help state courts implement federal rules — and paid Hunter $100,000 for lobbying services. Gingrey paid Hunter $28,650 for “campaign strategy” and “fundraising consulting” in 2008, according to Federal Election Commission records maintained by CQ MoneyLine. Gingrey has paid Hunter’s firm another $54,090 since then.
Hunter said there is absolutely no connection between his work for Gingrey’s campaign and his lobbying services. Both Hunter and Gingrey’s office said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) was the lead sponsor of the 2008 earmark for the court center, which is in his district. Gingrey’s office said the Congressman has long been a supporter of state court professional development and that court officials from Georgia and around the country had supported the project for the state court center. For fiscal 2010, the center received a second earmark for $500,000 with the support of nearly two dozen House Members and Senators; Gingrey was not among them.
Nevertheless, Congressional watchdogs say it is highly unusual for a lobbyist seeking earmarks for a client to also serve as a paid fundraiser or campaign consultant to a Member who is supporting those earmarks. The arrangement would seem to make it difficult to keep the Member’s official duties separate from the activities of the campaign, they said.
The Center for State Courts offers administrative support for more than a dozen other court associations, such as the Conference of State Court Administrators, the American Judges Association and the National Association for Court Management.
In 2007, Gingrey obtained a $188,000 earmark for the court management association.
Gingrey spokeswoman Meredith Griffanti said the Congressman “has had a long-standing relationship with the court management group ... one of his constituents was the director of it.”
Griffanti said Gingrey’s predecessor, former Rep. Bob Barr (R), supported the association for years. “We have been doing appropriations requests for them dating back to 2003,” she said.
The constituent who was Gingrey’s connection to the court managers was Skip Chesshire.
For more than 20 years, Chesshire was an administrator for the Cobb County Superior Court, and he became president of the National Association for Court Management in 2006. He also served as NACM’s member on the board of the Center for State Courts.
Lorri Montgomery, communications director for the center, said that by the end of 2007, “we had been contracting with a large group” — their lobbying firm was Russ Reid Co. — but “with them we were just one of a number and we wanted to go with a smaller firm where we would be an important client.”
Montgomery said Chesshire recommended Hunter, and “we interviewed several people and hired Mitch in January 2008.”
Montgomery pointed out that the center’s directors made sure that Hunter’s one-year lobbying ban had expired when they contracted for his lobbying services. According to Hunter’s filings with the House, he terminated his employment with Gingrey on Jan. 2, 2007, and registered to lobby for the state courts effective Jan. 2, 2008.