I saw this interesting little tidbit earlier today regarding Conrad Burns' "little legal issues" arising from his buddy Jack Abramoff. What jumped out at me immediately was his comment that:
Burns had hired [DC white collar criminal defense attorney Ralph] Caccia to "review the facts" in the Jack Abramoff matter. Klindt said Wednesday that Burns has hired Caccia's firm as his personal lawyer but may choose to have his re-election campaign pay the bill "due to the partisan nature of it," referring to Democrats' attempts to link Burns to Abramoff.
Now, forgetting the stupid, petty, scummy comment about it being so partisan. Actually, I take that back, this IS a partisan issue - ONLY the Republicans are showing up as being entangled with this scandal and have been linked to criminal matters with Abramoff. But, the fact that he would blatantly indicate that he would have his re-election campaign pay for his personal attorney got me wondering if this is legal.
And based on a quick read of the Federal Campaign Finance Laws, it looks as if "the other evil Mr. Burns" may be in more legal trouble if he goes along with his threat.
Now, I am no attorney, but I deal with attorneys a lot in my line of work (and the missus is one herself), but it looks like something of this nature would fall within the violations of the "acceptable use" rules for campaign funds.
According to Section 439a(b) of the Federal Campaign Finance Laws, the following is prohibited (emphasis mine):
(1) In general. A contribution or donation described in subsection (a) shall not be converted by any person to personal use.
(2) Conversion. For the purposes of paragraph (1), a contribution or donation shall be considered to be converted to personal use if the contribution or amount is used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate's election campaign or individual's duties as a holder of Federal office, including--
(A) a home mortgage, rent, or utility payment;
(B) a clothing purchase;
(C) a noncampaign-related automobile expense;
(D) a country club membership;
(E) a vacation or other noncampaign-related trip;
(F) a household food item;
(G) a tuition payment;
(H) admission to a sporting event, concert, theater, or other form of entertainment not associated with an election campaign; and
(I) dues, fees, and other payments to a health club or recreational facility.
Now, granted that Burns is in legal hot water because he misused his official position to get favors, Super Bowl tickets and other "goodies" from Abramoff in exchange for his efforts to help Abramoff's clients.
But if he is going to argue that this is related to his "duties as a holder of Federal office", well that would be a treat. I can hear the argument now: "I broke the law in my capacity as a holder of Federal office, so it is only logical that I use campaign funds to pay for my defense".
However, regardless of whether his crimes (or "alleged crimes") occurred, it is clear that he would have had to hire a personal criminal defense attorney regardless of whether he was seeking reelection or not. This certainly is vastly different from the "Tom DeLay defense fund" or the "Scooter Libby defense fund" - I don't think that DeLay was directing his campaign funds towards his defense (but with him, who knows...)
Even more interesting at this point is that Burns hasn't been formally contacted by the Justice Department. And the Democrats have been quick to point this out:
The Justice Department has never said which members of Congress are part of the investigation, and Klindt said Wednesday neither the senator nor his lawyer has been contacted by the agency.
Democrats said the fact that Burns has hired a criminal defense attorney shows he is more involved in the Abramoff investigation than he has let on previously.
"If Burns really believed he'd done nothing wrong and this was all 'just politics,' he wouldn't have one of the best white-collar crime lawyers money can buy," said Matt McKenna, a spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party.
But no one at this point is addressing the larger issue of whether the use of his campaign funds to pay for his personal legal defense is a violation of federal election laws.
And wouldn't that be a treat if he just threatened to violate these laws in an attempt to redirect the spotlight from him to "those evil partisan Democrats"....