Campaign Donations Used For Legal Fees

032002, story, campaign finance reform,soft money, senate vote JM
The Skinny is Joel Roberts' take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

When Americans give money to political candidates they probably think it will be used to help get them into office – not to keep them out of jail.

But according to a report in Friday's USA Today, some two dozen current and former members of Congress caught up in criminal or ethics scandals spent $5 million in campaign donations on legal fees over the past 27 months.

The list of big spenders is dominated by Republicans, led by indicted former House Speaker Tom DeLay, who used $1.1 million in campaign funds to battle charges of campaign money laundering, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Also on the list are a couple of convicted former GOP lawmakers, ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and ex-Rep. Bob Ney, each of whom spent more than $500,000 in campaign donations on legal expenses. Ex-Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned last year in the congressional page scandal, paid his lawyers more than $250,000 from his campaign fund.

Among current members of Congress, the top spender is Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, who is being investigated for his ties to lobbyists. His campaign paid lawyers more than $900,000, records show.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who has faced scrutiny over a real estate deal, spent $91,000 from his campaign fund on legal fees.

The spending is perfectly legal. While campaign funds cannot be used for personal expenses, USA Today says the FEC has ruled that "fighting to stay out of jail is a legitimate political activity" – as long as the charges relate to conduct in office.

Wolfowitz's Long Goodbye

Paul D. Wolfowitz's announcement that he would resign as president of the World Bank was front-page news in most of the Friday papers, along with post-mortems on the scandal that ended his tenure at the bank and speculation about what he may do next.

The Washington Post said the controversy over charges that Wolfowitz arranged a pay raise and promotion for his female companion had made him "a virtual pariah" at the bank, "reviled by much of the staff."

Staff members described a "celebratory mood" at the bank's Washington headquarters after the announcement, the Post said, "with people embracing, singing songs and hoisting flutes of Champagne."

The Los Angeles Times says that while Wolfowitz has acknowledged no wrongdoing, his resignation "probably brings to an end the government career of the man considered by many to be the intellectual architect of President Bush's foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq."

The New York Times says that once Wolfowitz leaves the bank, friends say he'll likely follow former colleagues like ex-CIA director George Tenet and L.Paul Bremer, who led the post-invasion government in Iraq, in writing a book defending their actions in the war.

In fact, The Times says, Wolfowitz wanted to write a book about Iraq and accept fees for speeches when he arrived at the bank in 2005. That led to his first battle with the bank's ethics officers, who rejected his request.

A NOTE TO READERS: The Skinny is now available via e-mail. Click here and follow the directions to register to receive it in your inbox each weekday morning.