Ethics Probes Keep Lawyers Flush
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Justice Department probes of congressional corruption continued to provide big business for Washington's white-collar criminal defense attorneys, who billed at least $1 million in the second quarter to current and former House members involved in federal investigations.
With at least 11 such politicians -- including several forced from office last fall -- facing probes including the Jack Abramoff bribery conspiracy and the House page instant-messaging scandal, top-flight legal talent was in high demand.
The largest payout for current members came from Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), whose campaign shelled out more than $262,000 to a pair of top Washington firms: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which took more than $242,000, and Tobin, O'Connor, Ewing & Richard.
Unlike some of the others on the list, Young has not been the target of a subpoena. But Mark Zachares, a former staffer on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee while Young chaired it, pleaded guilty this spring to trying to help Abramoff's clients in exchange for the promise of a future job at his firm.
In addition, Young's current district director in Alaska recently lobbied for an energy conglomerate whose chief executive pleaded guilty in May to bribing several state lawmakers. Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who has hired his own team of lawyers to deal with that probe, were the top recipients of donations from the executive and that company.
After spending $25,000 on Akin Gump in the first quarter, Young's campaign told reporters the funds were spent out of "caution." Yesterday, his congressional office deferred comment to Young's campaign staff, which declined to answer questions about his legal aid.
Former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who resigned last fall after the FBI began investigating a series of inappropriate instant messages with teenage boys who were formerly House pages, spent more than $277,000 from April through June from his campaign funds, according to reports filed this weekend with the Federal Election Commission.
The FEC and congressional ethics committees have routinely allowed members to tap their campaign war chests to pay legal bills if they are under investigation for actions taken in the course of being a member of Congress.
"Lawyers rejoice," said Norman J. Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Ornstein noted that the average cost for one of the lawyers who handle ethics investigations has grown to $600 an hour. "This is serious stuff. . . . Obviously, it's also a reflection of the fact that we've a lot of folks under investigation," Ornstein added.
Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the former speaker who underwent questioning from the ethics committee during its review last fall of the Foley matter, spent nearly $60,000 on legal bills in April and May, slightly less than the $70,000 he paid to his attorneys in the first quarter. Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) , his successor, spent $52,939 on legal bills related to his civil lawsuit against Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) over a leaked copy of a conference call Boehner participated in more than 10 years ago.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who has faced scrutiny over earmarks he provided to campaign contributors, spent $31,000 on his defense. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), whose family business was raided by the FBI last April, spent $25,000. Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), whose investments and campaign contributions have been under investigation, spent $22,671. And Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), who was closely linked to Abramoff, spent $50,584.
Defeat at the ballot box does not mean the bills go away.
Former congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), whose daughter's offices were raided by the FBI just before he lost his reelection bid, paid $25,000 to his lawyers this spring as investigators continued to examine official actions taken on behalf of his daughter's lobbying clients. Weldon also paid $5,000 to a firm for "investigative services."
Former congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), who has faced scrutiny over his relationship with Abramoff, paid more than $102,000 to a legal team, according to his FEC report, and still owes $106,000.