Fortenberry’s legal expense fund related to FBI investigation

Nebraska Republican opened fund to pay for costs associated with inquiry

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., set up a legal expense fund on Aug. 27. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., set up a legal expense fund on Aug. 27. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 4, 2021 at 12:44pm

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry opened a legal expense fund on Aug. 27 to pay for costs associated with an FBI investigation into an effort by a foreign national to illegally provide money to political campaigns, including the Nebraska Republican’s.

Axios first reported on the matter Monday, but it is unclear where the inquiry currently stands.

“It’s been previously reported that the FBI investigated an effort by a foreign national to illegally funnel money to U.S. political campaigns, including Rep. Fortenberry’s,” a spokesperson for Fortenberry said in a statement. “The people involved in that scheme were prosecuted and no charges were filed against him. This legal expense trust was established in part to address costs associated with that investigation.”

Members are permitted by the House Ethics Committee to open a legal expense fund for which they can receive donations of up to $5,000 in a calendar year from an individual or organization to pay legal bills that arise as part of their candidacy for federal office or official duties. The fund can also be used to defend a member from criminal prosecution or a civil matter bearing on the lawmaker’s fitness for office. Registered lobbyists and foreign agents cannot contribute to a legal expense fund.

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, used a legal expense fund when he was being prosecuted by the Department of Justice for misusing campaign funds for personal use.

The trustee for the Jeff Fortenberry Legal Expense Trust is Timothy D. Von Dohlen. 

Members can also use campaign accounts for some legal expenses, but those accounts can have lower contribution limits than a legal fund. Since 2019, Fortenberry’s campaign reported spending more than $94,000 on legal services, mostly to a South Carolina law firm, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP. In June of this year, the campaign paid $25,000 in legal fees to a firm in California — Bienert Katzman Littrell Williams LLP, described on its website as a “trial boutique firm.”

A DOJ spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.