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Vitter Seeks Help Paying for 'Very Serious Sin'

Off the hook but cash strapped, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is appealing to the Federal Election Commission to allow him to use campaign donations to defray legal costs associated with his involvement in the famed D.C. Madam case.

The Vitters
Sen. David Vitter accompanied by his wife Wendy Vitter at a news conference in Metairie, La. on July 16, 2007. (AP File Photo/Alex Brandon)

According to this story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Vitter's attorney, Jan Baran, argued in a recent letter to the FEC that Vitter should be allowed to use his reelection funds to pay for $207,000 worth of legal and public relations fees stemming from his ties to an escort service owned by the late so-called D.C. Madam, Deborah Jean Palfrey.

The paper reports that some Vitter donors aren't thrilled about the idea of having their political donations used to pay the senator's personal legal bills. As John Stumpf Jr., the owner of a real estate firm who gave $1,000 to Vitter's 2010 reelection campaign told the paper, "I contributed to get him elected, not to protect his personal interests. I think this should come out of his own pocket, or another fund."

Other donors, including Jed Darensbourg, who gave $4,200 to Vitter's reelection campaign, suggested Vitter set up a legal defense fund. "I think people should have the option of helping him pay his legal bills," Darensbourg said. "I just don't think it's fair to take it from contributions intended to help him get re-elected."

FEC rules prohibit federal candidates and officeholders from using campaign money to be converted for personal use; all expenses paid for with campaign accounts must be related to the politician's official duties. And while it may not seem that Vitter's involvement with prostitutes would have much to do with his official duties as an officeholder, Baran reportedly is arguing that the senator's legal and public relations expenses incurred from his involvement in the D.C. Madam case "are the direct result of the senator holding office."

That includes "quashing subpoenas, assisting in the defense of an ethics committee complaint, or advising Sen. Vitter in connection with managing press attention and public communications," Baran reportedly wrote to the FEC.

Contacted by the Sleuth, Baran declined to comment on his letter.

Kenneth Gross, a renowned expert on campaign finance compliance, tells us he thinks it sounds as if "at least part of [Vitter's] legal fees could be covered." He noted the FEC has been "somewhat permissive in the use of campaign funds for legal expenses if a nexus can be drawn to [the office holder's] official duties."

Or, as campaign finance lawyer Brett Kappel tells the Sleuth, it looks like Vitter is using "the Bob Kerrey argument."

That would be former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), who won an advisory opinion from the FEC in 2001 allowing him to use leftover campaign funds to cover media relations costs associated with tamping down a story about his involvement in the Thang Phong massacre during the Vietnam War. (Read the FEC's advisory opinion regarding Senator Kerrey.)

"The Bob Kerrey argument that Senator Vitter is now using is that 'but for' his position as a federal officeholder, his involvement in the D.C. Madam case would never have come to light and he never would have had to incur these legal costs," Kappel says.

From a congressional ethics standpoint, Vitter has lucked out since his alleged dalliances with prostitutes occurred before he was a senator. The Senate ethics committee in May exonerated Vitter because his contacts with the late D.C. Madam's escort service occurred when he was a House member, before he ran for the Senate. And since the House ethics panel cannot retroactively investigate Vitter's conduct, the Louisiana Republican looks to be off the hook completely.

And, of course, we'll know by November of 2010 whether Vitter is off the hook completely politically for what he himself called a "very serious sin."

By Mary Ann Akers  |  July 8, 2008; 5:35 PM ET
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This is lame! I hope the folks that contributed to him ensure justification in one way or another. I wonder what his "inbox" looks like these days...

Posted by: Ed | July 9, 2008 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Unbelievable. Not only did he reveal himself to be the worst kind of hypocrite (a moral one), now he expects to use campaign contributions to pay his legal bills on a personal matter?

This reminds me of when ex-VP Spiro Agnew tried to claim a tax deduction for the fine he had to pay the State of Maryland after losing a civil suit on bribery charges. In both cases, the disgraced offender expects others to pay for the consequences of his personal misdeeds.

Truly, Vittner has no shame. No wonder people despise politicians - they are despicable.

Posted by: billp | July 9, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

What a jerk I'd sooner make a donation to his wife Wendy to help her in diviorce proceedings. The poor woman looks like a deer in the headlights and he look slike he's explaining how his son's Little League team lost their game.

Posted by: John Collier | July 9, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Contributions to cover hooker-related expenses? Can contributions be used to pay off a bookie for gambling debts too? How about if he owes his pharmacists due to the wicked drug habit he picked -- owing lots of money can be very stressful, you know.

Posted by: babar1 | July 9, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

This is only completely and totally absurd. I'm still trying to figure out why he is still holding office. The dirtbags of the world have a new leader.

Posted by: Ivan Hentschel, Austin, TX | July 10, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

The arrogance of these people is beyond comprehension. But then why should they think any differently. As long as we continue to re-elect Vitter, Jefferson, Jerry Lewis, Ted Stevens, we send a signal that it's O.K. w/us. We are the only ones that can stop this behavior. They have no incentive to do so. Very sad....

Posted by: oligar0601 | July 10, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Don't feel too sorry for Vitter's wife. When he was taking the moral high ground on Clinton's fling with Monica Lewinsky, she said she would be more Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary Clinton if her husband ever did something similarly inappropriate.

Of course, when that actually turned out to be the case, she remembered all the perks that come with being a Senator's wife. So, the 2 of them are still enjoying the pampered high life.

So, there is a degree of equality in that marriage - the hypocrisy is not confined to the husband alone. She's no paragon of victimhood.

Posted by: billp | July 10, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

How disgusting.What happened? Did the madam
get it all? That's what he gets. He should be ashame to be asking for campaign contributions to pay off his infidelity bill.Barack Obama isn't allowed to help pay Hilliary's bill with campaign funds he has acquired, he has to help her raise funds.Why can't Vitter raise his own funds.

Posted by: Carolyn LeBeauf | July 10, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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