Legal Bills

Scandals and Inquiries Mean More Fees

By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's springtime in Washington and some of the biggest things blooming are politicians' legal bills.

The large number of political figures, including current and former members of Congress, who are embroiled in criminal, ethics and civil cases helped rack up more than $2 million in legal bills in the first three months of the year, an unusually large amount for the first quarter of a non-election year.

The Republican National Committee ran up one of the biggest tabs, reporting it paid $500,000 last month alone to the D.C. blue chip firm of Covington & Burling. Officially, the GOP offered no explanation.

"As a matter of policy, the RNC does not comment on legal fees," spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said.

Unofficially, GOP officials said they continue to pay bills stemming from the civil case involving a scheme in which Republican operatives in New Hampshire were convicted of conspiring to jam phone lines during the 2002 election in hopes of keeping Democrats from voting.

Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), the RNC chairman, had his own legal problems spill into public as the Federal Election Commission cited his 2004 Senate campaign for nearly $800,000 in problematic contributions. He has yet to be penalized, but Martinez reported paying his lawyers a little more than $4,800 from his campaign so far this year and has $5,149 in unpaid bills.

Some of the senior House Republicans who were witnesses during the various inquiries into former Florida representative Mark Foley's inappropriate contact with young House pages also reported hefty legal bills.

Former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who still represents an Illinois district though he is no longer in leadership, reported paying his lawyers nearly $70,000, and carrying over $20,000 in unpaid bills. Foley, who resigned from Congress last year, reported more than $200,000 in legal fees.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) reported $52,533 in legal bills, mostly stemming from his long-running lawsuit against Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) over the 1996 release of an illegally recorded Republican telephone call.

Democrats had their own share of bills. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported $50,466 in legal fees during the first quarter. Spokesman Matt Miller said that was the normal quarterly retainer the party committee pays its law firm to help it stay in compliance on election laws.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) reported paying lawyers a little more than $75,000 during the first three months. His office said it did not immediately know what the fees were for.

Past and current lawmakers involved in the various corruption investigations involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff or House appropriations also reported hefty legal bills.

Former senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), whose ties to Abramoff-related figures and contributions helped cost him reelection last fall, reported paying $120,000 out of his leftover campaign funds to lawyers. Another Republican felled by controversy in last November's election, former representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, reported $132,025 in legal bills. The FBI has been investigating lucrative lobbying and consulting contracts Weldon's daughter received while he was in office.

Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), whose Virginia home was raided last week by FBI agents investigating fundraising by Doolittle's wife as an outgrowth of the Abramoff case, reported $13,516 in legal bills in the first quarter. Doolittle said he is going to seek House ethics committee permission to start a legal defense fund to defray his bills. Such funds can collect up to $5,000 per person per year, more than double the $2,300 maximum donations his campaigns can collect.

The early start to the 2008 presidential race also provided a boon for lawyers. The candidates spent at least $350,000 on lawyers in the first quarter, and $340,000 on legal "compliance consultants" as they tried to keep from running afoul of campaign finance laws during the early rush to collect contributions.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company