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Members Shell Out for Legal Help

More than a dozen sitting and former House Members — including at least two who do not appear to be under investigation — made significant legal payments from their campaign accounts in the first three months of the year, according to new Federal Election Commission filings.

Natural Resources ranking member Don Young (R-Alaska) reported a $25,000 payment to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, but his campaign manager said it was a precautionary measure and did not pertain to an investigation.

“In this day and age with all of the accusations and innuendos, we wanted to err on the side of caution,” said Steve Dougherty, adding that Young has put the firm on retainer.

Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) also reported paying $29,000 in legal fees to Wiley Rein. Steve Shearer, Weller’s campaign manager, said it did not pertain to an investigation. Weller tapped legal counsel during the 2006 campaign season to respond to corruption allegations and other criticisms from his opponent.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy reported a $15,600 payment to McGuireWoods law firm. His office had not responded by press time.

Last year’s ethics committee investigation into ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) cost a handful of lawmakers hefty legal bills during the first quarter of 2007. Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) — who served as Speaker during the Foley saga — reported six payments totaling $70,000 to McKenna Long & Aldridge, the law firm of Hastert’s counsel Randy Evans. Hastert also reported a debt of $52,000 to the firm that has yet to be paid.

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) reported two payments totaling $26,000 to Patton Boggs, which also was related to the Foley investigation. As for Foley himself, he paid nearly $206,000 in legal fees to Zuckerman Spaeder but retains a hefty campaign account with more than $1.7 million in cash on hand.

In a separate ethics committee investigation, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) reported two payments totaling $23,000 to Patton Boggs for legal counsel regarding a Jack Abramoff-related trip he took to Scotland in August 2003. Ethics ruled in January that the trip was improper and fined Feeney $5,643 to be paid to the Treasury.

Former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who is under FBI investigation and also was fined by the ethics committee in January for taking an improper trip, paid $132,000 in legal fees to five different law firms in the first quarter and reported $33,000 in cash on hand.

Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who squeaked out an election victory amid a federal investigation into his relationship with Abramoff, paid more than $10,000 to Wiley Rein and owes the firm an additional $16,000. Doolittle reported debts of $173,000 — $126,000 of which is owed to the fundraising firm of his wife, Julie — and $91,000 in cash on hand.

Other Members under investigation include Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who paid $5,000 for legal services to attorney Grant Woods and reported a debt of more than $103,000 to Patton Boggs.

Renzi reported significant overall debt of $495,000, but most of that stems from loans he has made to himself since his 2002 election. Renzi is a wealthy land developer and is under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona for his role in a land deal.

Two members of the Appropriations Committee also apparently remain under federal investigation. The panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), faces scrutiny for his ties to a lobbying firm. Lewis reported more than $10,000 to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), chairman of the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies, reported a debt of $20,000 to Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, an area law firm specializing in white-collar criminal defense. Mollohan is under federal scrutiny for certain earmarks steered to his home state. He also paid $1,300 to Perkins Coie for legal services.

Another prominent Democrat, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (Mich.), reported $11,000 in legal payments to two firms, the bulk of it to Perkins Coie and nearly $2,000 to the Brand Law Group.

Conyers was the target of a nearly three-year ethics inquiry that concluded in December 2006. The ethics panel ruled that Conyers did not break House rules but cautioned him to take greater precautions not to use official staff for campaign purposes.

Still locked in a legal battle over a 1997 leaked tape conversation, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) reported paying nearly $53,000 in legal fees to two firms, mostly to Jones Day and $5,000 to Wiley Rein. His chief opponent in the legal battle, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), uses a legal defense fund to pay for the case and not his campaign account, which reported no legal fees. The 2006 fourth-quarter filings for legal defense funds are the most recent available, in which McDermott raised $16,000 and paid $133,000 for that period.

Embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who is under federal investigation, also uses a legal defense fund. His campaign account listed no legal payments and reported only $33,000 in cash on hand. His fourth-quarter legal defense fund report said he had raised nothing and spent nothing from October to December 2006, and that he had raised $136,000 total since starting the fund. The next reports are due April 30.

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who is under scrutiny in the investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, did not report any legal payments, nor did Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), who faces scrutiny for his land deals.

Incarcerated ex. Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) did not report any legal payments, but did pay his wife, Elizabeth, her $855 bimonthly salary.