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Members of Congress Shell Out $1 Million in Legal Fees

A pair of senators facing corruption probes shelled out more than $130,000 combined on legal bills in the 2nd quarter of 2007, bringing the total amount of ethics-related tabs to at least $1.1 million in the House and Senate from April through June.

In addition, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) dished out another $35,000 to the law firm he's paying to take up a libel suit against the key men behind the attack ads run against him in 2004 by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, according to forms filed with the Senate Ethics Committee.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) paid a trio of law firms more than $93,000 in the quarter, while a probe continues into his real estate deals, particularly one in which he has rented a property of his to a non-profit agency for which he has sought federal funding. Menendez has two Garden State-based firms on his campaign committee's payroll, including Genova, Burns & Vernoia. That's home to Angelo Genova, the premier Democratic white-collar defense attorney in New Jersey.

Also, Menendez has as his regular counsel Marc Elias of Perkins Coie, the Seattle-based firm that represents dozens of congressional Democrats and party committees.

The Federal Election Commission and congressional ethics committees allow members to use their campaign funds to pay legal bills so long as the investigations are related to the work they performed as lawmakers.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) paid more than $37,000 to the firm Williams & Jensen -- which is littered with top GOP lawyers and lobbyists -- in three separate payments in the spring, according to his campaign finance report. Stevens is under intense scrutiny by a federal task force run by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section and the FBI's Anchorage office, which has already secured guilty pleas from two energy company executives and indictments of several state legislators. As part of the plea, one of the executives pleaded to paying a "state senator B" more than $240,000, an amount that precisely matched the amount that the company paid to Stevens's son, former state Sen. Ben Stevens (R-Alaska).

Ted Stevens reported that the payments to Williams & Jensen were merely for "FEC compliance/disclosure", indicating they might have just been for bookkeeping with the Federal Election Commission. However, in the previous 9 months, the Stevens for Senate Committee had made no such payments to the law firm, with the first five-figure payment to the firm coming just three weeks before the energy executive, close Stevens' friend Bill Allen, pleaded guilty to the bribery charges.

For his part, Kerry has formed a defense fund to pay for his libel suit, which is a separate entity that can take donations of up to $10,000 a year from individuals or corporations or unions without any impact on campaign contribution limits. Since starting the defense fund, Kerry has raised nearly $140,000 from such prominent liberal donors as billionaire grocery store magnate Ron Burkle, who gave Kerry $10,000 in the 2nd quarter.

Kerry has paid out almost $1250,000 to ReedSmith, the law firm he's hired to pursue the case.

After revelations that former Rep. J.D. Hayworth paid more than $102,000 to the GOP law firm Foley & Lardner, the Arizona Republican acknowledged to Phoenix-area media that he's been contacted by the Justice Department in relation to its ever-expanding probe of congressmen connected to now imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Hayworth said the Justice Department asked for "several documents" from his office but insists he is not a target of any investigation and has "done illegal or inethical." He said he is cooperating fully with Justice officials. In a posting earlier this week, Capitol Briefing incorrectly stated that Hayworth had $106,000 in legal debt. He currently has no legal debt.

Here's final run-down on members and their legal tabs in the 2nd quarter:

Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.)

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)

Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.)

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio)

Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.)

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.)

Former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.)

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.)

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.)


* -- Feeney reported those fees as debt he still owes his firm.

By Paul Kane  |  July 20, 2007; 11:36 AM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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