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Campus Notebook: Trahan opens legal expense fund to address Ethics inquiry

Sen. Michael Bennet, a climate change fighter, employs a staffer who holds over $15k in Exxon Mobil stock

Rep. Lori Trahan is enlisting the help of a special fund for lawmakers to address legal expenses arising from a House Ethics Committee inquiry into whether her campaign accepted impermissible contributions that exceeded federal parameters and misreported information with the Federal Election Commission.

The Massachusetts Democrat established the Lori Trahan Legal Expense Trust on Feb. 20, according to a filing received Feb. 24 by the House Legislative Resource Center. A legal expense fund is permitted by the Ethics Committee when legal fees arise in connection with a member’s candidacy or election to federal office, official duties in office, a criminal prosecution, or a civil matter bearing on the person’s reputation or fitness for office. Reports on contributions and spending must be filed on a quarterly basis with the committee and for the public at the Legislative Resource Center.

Contributions to Trahan’s fund cannot exceed $5,000 from an individual or an organization in a calendar year. Neither registered lobbyists nor foreign agents can give to the trust. Those who have previously donated to Trahan are eligible to donate up to $5,000 to this new fund.

These funds help members pay for expensive legal bills and are fairly common. The establishment of a fund does not mean a member has done anything improper.

Rep. Tony Cardenas, a California Democrat, used a legal expense fund to defend himself against a civil lawsuit that was eventually dropped.

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter opened one to pay for his legal defense on federal campaign finance charges. The California Republican has since pleaded guilty to those charges, resigned from Congress and is set to be sentenced on March 17.

Trahan is represented by Perkins Coie, a law firm that specializes in campaign finance issues. Her campaign committee, Lori Trahan for Congress Committee, owes the law firm $347, 118, according to a Jan. 31 FEC filing.

In a report made public in December, the Office of Congressional Ethics found there is “substantial reason” to believe the Massachusetts Democrat’s campaign circumvented FEC rules by loaning her campaign $300,000 from a joint checking account she shares with her husband, David.

“Consistent with FEC guidance, spousal funds are subject to contribution limits,” the OCE report says. “The process of transferring these funds from David Trahan’s accounts to a joint account did not transform these funds into Rep. Trahan’s assets, or even jointly owned assets.”

The OCE report found the loans appeared to have originated from David’s personal account. The max he could donate from that account was $5,400 — the contribution limit for 2017-18.

OCE transmitted its findings on Trahan to the Ethics Committee, which, unlike, OCE, has subpoena power and the authority to discipline members of Congress. The committee is currently reviewing the matter.

A staffer for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., jointly owns between $15,000 and $50,000 in Exxon Mobil stock. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Michael Bennet, a climate change fighter, employs a staffer who holds thousands in Exxon stock

Amy Friedman, a state director for Sen. Michael Bennet, jointly owns between $15,000 and $50,000 in the major oil and gas industry fossil fuel company Exxon Mobil Corporation. Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, lists combatting climate change as among his priorities on his official Senate website.

Open container charge

A Capitol Police officer saw a car driving along Garfield Circle without its lights on and stopped the car in the 100 block of Maryland Avenue SW. The police report said an officer observed beer bottles on the floor of the car and found the driver had a suspended Virginia permit. The driver was arrested Feb. 15, and charged with driving without a valid permit and possession of an open container of alcohol.

Car chase

On Feb. 17, a Capitol Police officer reported seeing a vehicle that matched a license plate hit for a car wanted in connection with a North Carolina armed robbery. The car, which was driving eastbound in the 100 block of Independence Avenue SE refused to stop for the officer, apparently hit several vehicles and almost hit an officer.

The suspect’s car stopped at the intersection of Second Street and Independence Avenue SE and the suspect was removed from the vehicle after allegedly refusing to exit. Police said they recovered a gun with ammunition, marijuana and heroin. The person, who is allegedly a convicted felon, was charged with illegally possessing a firearm, fleeing from a law enforcement officer in a car and assault with a dangerous weapon, among other charges.

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