Legal Costs Drop

Few Members Paying Lawyers

Posted April 16, 2008 at 6:39pm

Defense attorneys played Maytag repairmen during this year’s first fundraising quarter, recent campaign finance records suggest, as billable hours for some once-lucrative Congressional clients ground to a halt during the opening months of 2008.

Embattled Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), William Jefferson (D-La.) and Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) paid no legal fees out of their campaign committees during the first quarter, according to campaign finance records.

Reps. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) and Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who are both retiring, also paid no legal fees out of their principal campaign bank accounts during the first three months of the year.

Although some Members gave their campaign checkbooks a break during the first quarter, a handful of lawmakers did write hefty five- and six-figure checks to pay for legal bills. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) paid Atlanta-based McKenna Long & Aldridge nearly $40,000. Blunt has paid the firm roughly $75,000 this cycle, according to CQ MoneyLine, a sizable chunk for legal work related to disgraced defense contractor Brent Wilkes.

Blunt spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said that the legal services were for a wide array of issues, including the Wilkes case and wading through new House ethics laws. She would not confirm whether any of the costs were related to Renzi or the investigation of ex- National Republican Congressional Committee Treasurer Christopher Ward.

“In today’s political environment, with newly minted ethics laws and increased scrutiny of a Member’s every move, it absolutely makes sense that our legal fees would be higher than earlier reports,” Ferrier said. “When you consider the fact that Mr. Blunt was dragged into a specious legal battle with Brent Wilkes that lasted until the end of October — and that we were even scrutinizing Mr. Blunt’s holiday invitations — it’s completely reasonable.

“Legal fees are expensive,” she added. “I guess that’s one of the reasons Republicans are for tort reform.”

Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) lawyer also punched the clock, pushing the lawyer’s 2007-08 legal bill total toward $1 million. Young paid Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld about $213,000 during the first quarter, according to campaign finance records. Young, who faces legal scrutiny for a relationship with an oil services company and a transportation project in Florida, has paid $988,286 in legal bills so far this cycle.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) paid roughly $60,000 to a law firm during the first three months of the year. His office confirmed that the costs were for a long-running case involving Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).

On March 31, a federal judge ordered that McDermott pay Boehner $1-million-plus for legal fees the GOP leader racked up when he sued his House colleague for leaking a taped phone conversation to a reporter nearly a decade ago.

Boehner has paid roughly $505,000 in legal bills so far this cycle.

For Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), retirement appears to have been a money-saving proposition. Long haunted by his relationship to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Doolittle called it quits earlier this year, while his legal fees trickled to $4,001 since Jan. 1.

Doolittle has paid law firms about $73,000 to date this cycle.

Although Mollohan, Weller and other Members who face potential legal scrutiny may have escaped with a bargain in early 2008, some lawmakers have paid dearly this cycle to wrestle the legal monkeys off their backs.

Weller, who was the subject of a Chicago Tribune story last fall, has paid lawyers more than $205,000 so far this cycle. The Tribune suggested Weller bought and sold several undisclosed beachfront properties in Central America while advocating for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The seven-term Congressman announced his retirement shortly after the article’s publication.

Mollohan, whose land deals have drawn criticism from the right — and perhaps law enforcement’s attention — has paid $102,604 for undisclosed legal fees during the past 16 months.

Former Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who is part of a grand jury investigation involving former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.), also did not pay out for legal fees this past quarter.

Investigators were looking into whether Lewis gave government handouts to clients of Lowery, a former partner at the lobbying shop Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White.

Lewis did pay about $105,000 during the last quarter of 2007, bringing his more-than-three-year-old legal ordeal’s price tag to roughly $1.27 million.

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who took a golf trip to Scotland in 2003 with Abramoff, also paid no legal fees last quarter.

But his legal tab so far this cycle: $30,031.