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Legal Fees Show Who Is Spending on Defense

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Mike Thompson spent almost $25,000 on legal fees relating to an ethics investigation regarding his advocacy for grape growers in his district. The Office of Congressional Ethics determined there was no need for further review.

The campaign accounts of Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) paid tens of thousands of dollars when the lawmakers were investigated and cleared by the Office of Congressional Ethics last year.

Though the allegations against Thompson and Fitzpatrick had been raised in the press, the existence of ethics probes against the two lawmakers has not previously been reported.

The sizable sums paid by the Mike Thompson for Congress and Fitzpatrick for Congress campaigns — at least $20,000 each in the fourth quarter alone — show how quarterly reports filed with the Federal Election Commission can provide a window into which current and former lawmakers are facing ethics probes, investigations, lawsuits and other legal problems.

Legal fees can be paid from money remaining in campaign accounts as long as the work relates to a Member’s duties in office, exposing legal problems that might not otherwise be public.

After reporting no legal expenses for several quarters, the campaign to re-elect Thompson reported writing a check for $24,994 to the law firm Perkins Coie on Dec. 21. A New York Times article in July detailed Thompson’s efforts to have the Treasury Department create a designated wine region — called an appellation ­— in his district, where Thompson has a vineyard.

“Congressman Thompson secured legal services to respond to a request for information from OCE about his advocacy for grape growers in his district. Thompson complied fully, the information was thoroughly reviewed and the bipartisan board at OCE unanimously voted 6-0 in his favor and that there was no need for further review,” Thompson’s communications director, Austin Vevurka, said in a statement.

The Fitzpatrick for Congress account paid the law firm Patton Boggs $20,000 in the fourth quarter and $20,000 in the third quarter, according to FEC filings. The disbursements were related to a request made by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that the OCE look into a reception that Fitzpatrick held at the Capitol during his swearing-in ceremony.

“The legal fees are associated with what we thought was a frivolous claim. We pro-actively went to OCE to ensure that all of our actions were proper and OCE found that we did not have any improper actions related to the party,” 
Fitzpatrick spokesman Patrick Lyden said.

The re-election accounts of other lawmakers, including Reps. John Fleming (R-La.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), detail the cost of new and ongoing ethics cases, employment lawsuits and other legal and compliance issues, filings show.

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