Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Legal Fees Eat Into Campaign Coffers

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Payments from the re-election account of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (center) to the law firm Steptoe & Johnson during the third quarter totaled $34,940.

The campaigns of current and former lawmakers paid tens of thousands of dollars last quarter to defend Members involved in ethics inquiries, hire investigative firms and settle lawsuits brought by staffers, according to a Roll Call examination of Federal Election Commission filings.

The reports, which are filed at regular intervals, detail the contributions and expenses of candidates’ campaign committees. Because legal fees can be paid from money remaining in lawmakers’ campaign accounts so long as the work relates to a Member’s duties in office, checks paid to law firms provide a window into which lawmakers are dealing with private lawsuits, government investigations and ethics inquiries, though the picture is often incomplete.

The report filed by the Rush Holt for Congress campaign, for example, shows that a $19,500 “legal settlement” was paid Aug. 17.

The payment ended a lawsuit filed by a former political consultant who alleged he was told “that we’re not hiring black people” when he brought on a group of African-American canvassers to work for the Rush Holt for Congress and Lautenberg for Senate campaigns, according to court filings.

When reached at his campaign headquarters, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said it was a “nuisance suit” brought by a disgruntled former campaign worker.

The campaigns of lawmakers who are being investigated by the House Ethics Committee wrote hefty checks to attorneys during July, August and September.

Since the independent Office of Congressional Ethics earlier this year investigated whether Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) had received improper loans and failed to disclose the transactions on his annual financial disclosure forms, payments from Meeks’ campaign to the law firm Perkins Coie, which is handling the ethics matter, increased from $1,000 during the first quarter to almost $14,000 during the second quarter and $16,000 during the most recent filing period.

The House Ethics Committee in August made the unusual move of announcing that it would continue investigating a $40,000 loan Meeks received in 2007 without forming an investigative subcommittee. The announcement triggered the disclosure of the OCE report, which the lawmaker’s attorneys have called burdensome and costly.

“For the past several months, Rep. Meeks has faced damaging and unsubstantiated press reports that he is under ethics investigation,” Perkins Coie attorneys wrote to the Ethics Committee in June. “He has had to incur great expense to respond to the OCE’s investigation.”

The Meeks campaign had already paid Perkins Coie more than the amount of the original loan under investigation, though the law firm is likely handling smaller legal matters for the campaign that are unrelated to the ethics inquiry.

The Meeks campaign did not respond to messages left at its headquarters.

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