Legal Fees Common in House

Posted August 8, 2008 at 4:27pm

Along with the usual suspects — those Members under federal investigation, indicted or otherwise grappling with legal troubles — a quarter of House lawmakers reported spending on legal fees in the first half of 2008.

An examination of campaign reports filed through July shows average spending on legal fees in 2008 at a little more than $8,000 per Member, not including the five top spenders, each of whom spent nearly $70,000 or more during the same six-month period.

Included in the rank-and-file group, however, are the nearly 30 lawmakers who reported spending $1,000 or less during the first half of the year, according to information available from CQ MoneyLine.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) campaign, for example, spent just $180 during that period, bringing its total to $678 for the 2007-2008 cycle.

Brett Kappel, an attorney at the firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP who specializes in campaign finance and ethics law, said it is not unusual for a Member to rack up as much as $36,000 in legal fees during a typical year, noting that fees for reviewing financial reports can typically run from $2,000 to $3,000 per month.

“One [Federal Election Commission] investigation of a reporting error could easily take three years and cost $100,000,” Kappel said. “It’s much more complicated than it was. The days when people could run campaigns on their kitchen tables are long gone. These campaigns, in essence, are small businesses.”

An aide to Rep. Joe Baca’s (D-Calif.) campaign, who asked not to be identified, cited reviews of the lawmaker’s financial reports when asked about the Member’s 2008 legal bills, a total of $22,111 paid to the Sacramento-based Olson Hagel & Fishburn LLP.

Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.) also list repeat payments to the same California firm in 2008, totaling around $24,000 and $23,600, respectively.

On the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) spent the most on legal costs in the current cycle, shelling out more than $1.2 million to firms including Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. The Alaskan faces legal scrutiny for his relationship to an oil services company and a transportation project in Florida.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) listed the highest payment in 2008, issuing a check for $628,000 in April to the law firm Jones Day after a federal judge ordered the lawmaker to pay House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) more than $1 million in legal fees resulting from a long-running lawsuit over a taped phone conversation that McDermott leaked to a reporter nearly a decade ago.

In the meantime, Boehner himself has paid about $540,000 in legal fees this cycle, including more than $96,000 paid in the first half of 2008 to firms including Jones Day and Wiley Rein LLP, a prominent election law firm favored by many Republicans.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also spent significant funds on legal expertise in the current cycle, handing more than $187,000 — including more than $112,000 since the beginning of the year — to Atlanta-based McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and Kansas City, Mo.-based Lathrop & Gage LC.

A Blunt spokeswoman reiterated Wednesday that the increase is tied to greater scrutiny in response to new House ethics rules as well as costs the Missourian faced for legal work prompted by a lawsuit involving former defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who was accused of bribing disgraced ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.). Wilkes had subpoenaed several lawmakers, including Blunt, to appear in court last year, although he later dropped that demand.

Several House lawmakers who are themselves subject to federal scrutiny continued to report significant legal fees, including Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who cut a check in May for more than $48,000 to the firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel PLLC.

Federal officials are reportedly probing millions of federal dollars issued to nonprofit groups in Mollohan’s district whose leaders include campaign contributors or others with close ties to the lawmaker. Mollohan, who is running unopposed, has not been charged with any crime. He has spent more than $152,000 in legal fees this cycle.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who has had to pay legal fees resulting from an investigation into an earmark he secured for clients of former Member and lobbyist Bill Lowery (R-Calif.), reported more than $67,000 in legal expenses in 2008, primarily paid to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. He has spent nearly $265,000 on legal fees in the current cycle.

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), tied to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff for attending a lavish 2003 golf trip in Scotland, spent $45,000 between the firms Zuckerman Spaeder LLP and Patton Boggs LLP, putting his legal expenses among the 10 highest in the House in the first half of 2008. He has spent more than $75,000 on legal fees this cycle.

Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), who announced he would retire at the end of the session after questions surfaced over his purchase of property in Central America, reported a single payment of $47,897 to Wiley Rein in April, bringing his total legal spending to more than $254,000 for the cycle.

Neither of the two House lawmakers facing federal charges in separate cases, Reps. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and William Jefferson (D-La.), reported paying any legal fees in the first half of the year. Renzi, indicted in February on public corruption charges, spent $45,000 on legal fees in 2007. Jefferson reports no spending from his campaign funds this cycle, although he maintains a separate legal defense fund.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) reports spending $7,937 on legal expenses this cycle, but he does not list any spending after his May arrest on drunken-driving charges in Alexandria, Va.