The Work

April 16, 2009 2:37 PM

Charlie Rangel Antes Up Legal Fees

Posted by Nate Raymond

Two law firms continue to rake in fees thanks to the ethics troubles of Rep. Charles Rangel.

Rangel (D-New York) paid Zuckerman Spaeder nearly $350,000 and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe $100,000 in January, according to campaign records filed Wednesday with the Federal Elections Commission. The House ethics committee is investigating Rangel's failure to pay taxes and possible misuse of office letterhead for fund-raising.

Zuckerman partner Leslie Kiernan and Orrick partner Lanny Davis are representing the Congressman from Harlem, as previously reported. Rangel's legal fees were first reported by Politico.

For politicians, campaign war chests are a tempting, though sometimes controversial, source to tap for paying off legal bills. Michigan's secretary of state is looking into whether former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick broke state laws in using $1 million in campaign funds to pay for his defense.

And former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who pleaded not guilty Wednesday at his arraignment, is seeking court permission to tap the $2 million left in his campaign fund to pay his legal fees, according to Sheldon Sorosky of Kaplan & Sorosky. Blagojevich's money troubles have prevented him from hiring more legal muscle.

"What was it that Jerry Maguire said?" Sorosky asked a group of reporters Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. "Show me the money," a television reporter yelled back.

For Zuckerman, the Rangel billables are a hefty chunk of change when contrasted with legal bills two former Congressman paid the firm during the same period using campaign cash. Former Rep. Tom Feeney, reportedly under federal investigation for his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, paid the firm $15,000 in the first quarter of 2009, according to Feeney's FEC filing.

Feeney's first payment to Zuckerman was in August 2008, campaign finance data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) shows. The firm received $37,000 at that time.

Feeney isn't relying solely on Zuckerman. Patton Boggs also has represented the Florida Republican; the firm took in $33,000 between January and March of this year, FEC records show. Patton Boggs earned $103,000 from Feeney in 2008, according to the CRP.

The other former Congressman using campaign funds to pay Zuckerman is former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida), the disgraced politician who resigned from the House in 2006 after revelations that he sent sexually explicit instant messages to Congressional pages. Zuckerman's fees have trickled off since then. The firm earned $57,953 in 2008 from Foley's campaign fund, down from the $629,190 it billed the year earlier, according to CRP's data.

Zuckerman has earned only $300 from Foley this year. That's most likely because Florida law enforcement officials in September announced they couldn't find enough evidence to press charges against Foley for violating state computer child pornography laws, putting an end to the criminal investigations.

As for Orrick, the firm received fees from just one campaign fund for a current or former member of the House in 2008, according to the CRP's records--Rangel. The firm received $121,437 from Rangel's campaign in October, the CRP says.

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Don't we all wish we had a campaign fund ready for a rainy day at court.

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