Campaign Funds Often Used by Politicians to Pay for their Legal Problems

Thursday, August 06, 2015
Sheldon Silver (AP photo)

Those who contribute to the campaigns of politicians should know that their donations may go toward more than helping their candidate get elected to office. The money might also be used to bail the candidate out of legal troubles.


In New York state, more than 40 lawmakers were found to have collectively spent $7 million of their campaign funds on lawyers hired to deal with scandals or investigations since 2005, according to The New York Times, with $2 million spent just this year. Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York Assembly, has spent $1.5 million in campaign funds to pay for lawyers in the wake of his January arrest on corruption charges.


Good government watchdogs contend such use of campaign monies should not be allowed. “Campaign funds should not be used to keep someone out of jail,” Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, told the Times. “And most donors didn’t have that in mind when they contributed.”


Politicians elsewhere have similar expenditures.


Republican Larry Craig, a former U.S. senator from Idaho, spent more than $197,500 from his campaign account to cover legal fees after being arrested during a public restroom sex sting operation at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2007. He didn’t run for re-election in 2008.


Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who’s running for the Republican nomination for president, said he would use campaign funds—after state taxpayers paid $80,000—to help his legal fight against allegations that he abused the powers of his office. One of the two felony charges against Perry was dismissed late last month. He still faces an abuse of power charge.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Millions in Campaign Donations in Albany Go to Legal Fees (by Susanne Craig and Thomas Kaplan, New York Times)

Former Senator Spent $197,500 of Campaign Funds on Legal Costs in Sex Case (by Eric Planin, Fiscal Times)

Perry Will Tap Campaign Account to Pay Attorneys (by Jay Root, Texas Tribune)

On Campaign Payment of Legal Fees, Contrasting Views from Christie (by Brian Svoboda, In the Arena: Law & Politics Update)

House Bill would Force Retired Politicians to Give up Surplus Campaign Funds after 6 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

What do Former Members of Congress and Losing Candidates do with Leftover Campaign Funds? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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