Filner’s (Real) Fine

Posted February 12, 2008 at 6:30pm

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) avoided the worst of it last summer when he allegedly threw a tantrum and pushed a United Airlines employee after the carrier misplaced his luggage.

[IMGCAP(1)]The charges were dropped. Filner avoided a guilty plea and paid a $100 fine.

But legal troubles typically never are that simple.

In Federal Election Commission documents filed late last month, Filner disclosed that his campaign paid almost $17,000 out of his campaign account to the Washington, D.C., law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis. Filner’s office declined to discuss the payment, or whether it was for routine campaign expenses, but according the firm’s Web site, none of its lawyers specialize in campaign finance law.

The firm, however, does have criminal defense and litigation divisions, which suggest that the firm’s lawyers have a knack for making legal headaches vanish.

“While our experience in negotiating with the government during the initial stages of investigations often enables us to avoid the filing of charges, the depth and breadth of our courtroom experience in criminal matters allows us to handle any matter for clients both large and small,” according to the firm’s Web site.

Filner originally faced up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine for the airport incident.

The lawmaker’s legal charges, too, may be related to a now-concluded investigation by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct related to the tussle. The ethics committee, which dealt the lawmaker a slap on the wrist, wrapped up its probe late last year of that fateful night at Dulles airport.

“Filner’s conduct was addressed in the proceedings before the Commonwealth of Virginia District Court,” the ethics committee wrote in a Dec. 19 memo. “Filner’s conduct demonstrated poor judgment on his part, and that he is responsible for creating a situation that implicated the reputation of the House of Representatives.”

We Heart Condi. A fledgling 527 group has been working the GOP party activist circuit to drum up support for potential vice-presidential candidate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice’s traveling booster squad, Think Condi, registered with the Internal Revenue Service last January, long before the current two-man Republican presidential race between former Arkansas Gov.

Mike Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain took shape. Wesley Fowler, the group’s deputy director, said Rice’s foreign policy expertise and conservative bona fides would be a good match for either candidate but particularly McCain, who is disliked by many party activists.

Fowler, a Townhall.com blogger and a former intern for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the group originally wanted Rice at the top of the ticket but “went to Plan B” when she never filed as a presidential candidate. Members of the group, which has $30,000-plus in the bank, pay for their own travel, and its Web site, thinkcondi.com, is registered to Fowler’s basement apartment in Chicago.

“We’ve been traveling around regional GOP conventions, state conventions, setting up booths, selling T-shirts,” Fowler said. “The message is for campaign workers and hopefully it will trickle down to the candidates themselves: Think Condi.”

Free Cash. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is asking the Federal Election Commission to look into an unpaid bank loan given to Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s (D-Pa.) likely general election opponent, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R).

According to a DCCC letter to the agency sent earlier this month, in late 2002 Barletta took out a short-term $65,000 unsecured campaign loan from the Legacy Bank of Harrisburg, which was to be repaid by Jan. 25, 2003. The due date for the loan, which carried a 5.25 percent interest rate, was later changed to Dec. 31, 2013, according to the DCCC.

To date, the DCCC claims no payments have been disclosed by Barletta and that “there is zero possibility that the Barletta for Congress committee has not violated the law.”

“On its face this loan appears to be illegal. No bank in the ordinary course of business would make a 10 year unsecured loan to a dormant political committee of a losing candidate,” wrote Brian Wolff, DCCC executive director. “The fact that the committee reports no payment of principal or interest on the loan demonstrates that the loan disclosed by the committee cannot possibly be legal. The committee is either the beneficiary of a substantial illegal loan or for 5 years has filed false reports with the commission or both.”

The mayor announced the day before the DCCC’s complaint was filed that he again would challenge Kanjorski. The lawmaker handily defeated Barletta in 2002 by more than 20,000 votes in an expensive race that cost Kanjorski roughly $1.2 million.

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