Rep. Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.) may have illegally used $400,000 in funds from his National Leadership PAC to pay for legal advice regarding the ethic charges brought against him in the House, according to the National Legal and Policy Center.
The NLPC, a Virginia-based non-profit that “promotes ethics in public life,” according to their website, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission last week.
“Under no circumstances does the Federal Election Campaign Act of 197l, as amended, or FEC regulations permit an elected official to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars from a multicandidate political action committee to cover legal fees for that elected official,” the complaint stated.
According to the House Ethics Committee, representatives are only allowed to use funds from their principal campaign committee, and not their leadership PACs, to pay for congressional expenses.
The complaint notes that Rangel’s PAC paid $100,000 to the legal firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe last year, and $293,000 to Zuckerman, Spaeder LLP this year. In 2009, Rangel’s congressional committee paid Zuckerman, Spaeder LLP $711,000, while the PAC paid the firm nothing. The complaint states that the new large payment from the PAC to the firm and the significant drop in how much the congressional committee paid the firm ($282,000 in 2010) “is a key fact in demonstrating that Rep. Rangel improperly paid his law firm in a major way throughout 2010.”
When a Politico article last year questioned the propriety of Rangel’s $100,000 payment to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Rangel’s campaign responded at the time that the PAC was paying for legal advice related to the PAC’s offices in New York, which were at a Harlem apartment controlled by Rangel, who was then facing questions regarding the number of New York apartments he controlled. But the NLPC complaint dismisses that response, stating that “it strains credulity to believe that the law firm billed exactly $100,000 for legal advice to National Leadership PAC for a matter that was so relatively minor.”
The complaint also notes that while any legal defense fund set up by a House member cannot accept donations from registered lobbyists, a leadership PAC does not face those same restrictions. “Even a cursory examination of the major donors to the National Leadership PAC reveals a heavy involvement of registered lobbyists,” the complaint noted.
Rangel was censured by the House last week, an incident that he described as “painful and embarrassing” to CNN.
UPDATE: In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer set to air tonight, Rangel said the NLPC’s charges were “unfounded.”
He admitted to using PAC funds for legal expenses, but said it was appropriate, adding that “we have written authority” from “the lawyer that handles the FEC issues.”
Asked if he was worried about possible criminal charges, Rangel responded, “No, of course not.”