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Vitter Loses With FEC On $160K In 'D.C. Madam' Legal Bills

Lawyers for the Federal Election Commission do not believe that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) should be allowed to use campaign funds to cover all the legal costs he incurred while trying to avoid testifying in the Deborah Jeane Palfrey prostitution case.

In a draft advisory opinion   (AO) released by the FEC on Wednesday, the agency concluded that Viitter will have to personally pay more than $160,000 in lawyers' fees stemming from Vitter's effort to quash suppoenas from Palfrey, dubbed by the media as the "D.C. Madam."

Another $31,000-plus in legal bills run up during a Senate Ethics Committee probe of Vitter can be covered by the campaign, the FEC staff rules. An additional $15,301 in fees can be partially covered by Vitter's re-election campaign.

Palfrey was indicted in March 2007 related to a prostitution ring she operated. Palfrey, who committed suicide in May after being convicted in the case, later revealed a list of phone numbers of her clients. Vitter's number was among those alleged clients, and Palfrey attorneys twice subpoenaed him to testify in the case.

In July 2007, Vitter publicly apologized for a "very serious sin in my past," but said the calls to Palfrey's service occurred before his 2004 Senate run.

Vitter hired a lawyer to quash the subpoenas, running up more than $200,000 in legal bills to try to stay out of the case. Vitter is now seeking FEC persmission to use campaign funds to pay off his attorneys, arguing that he was only targeted by Palfrey for subpoenas because of his status as a senator.

But the FEC disafreed with Vitter's position, According to the draft advisory opinion from FEC staff, "Senator Vitter's need for legal representation to quash Ms. Palfrey'ssubpoenas stemmed from his role as a potential witness in Ms. Palfrey's trial and was not related to information known to or acquired by Senator Vitter during the course of his candidacy or in the performance of his duties as a U.S. Senator. Moreover, Senator Vitter's obligation as a witness to comply with a valid subpoena would exist irrespective of Senator Vitter's campaign or duties as a U.S. Senator."

A draft AO opinion by FEC staff is not the last word on the matter, since the full FEC board still has to approve it.

Vitter has paid approximately $70,000 to his attorneys out of his own pocket, according to his FEC request.