Politics

Fundraisers sue broke Rep. Corrine Brown for $45k in unpaid bills

Rep. Corrine Brown, Florida Democrat, has almost no money in her campaign war chest.

Now it turns out she owes money too, according to a lawsuit filed by a major Democratic fundraising firm to force Brown to pay $44,495 in unpaid bills.

Berger Hirschberg Strategies — a big player in Democratic money circles that has done fundraising for several presidential campaigns — filed suit Jan. 10 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to force Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, to pay up.

Brown stopped paying the firm, which raised over half a million dollars for her campaign, in July, but didn’t effectively terminate the contract until the end of September.

Mysteriously, Brown claimed in reports to the Federal Election Comission (FEC) she did pay the firm $15,000 in July – even while admitting in court filings her campaign didn’t pay Berger Hirschberg that month.

“That’s the interesting question,” said Marty Lobel, Berger Hirschberg’s lawyer, “where did all the money go?”

A story Monday in the Florida Times-Union highlighted that Brown has almost no campaign cash. According to the article, Brown’s political war chest puts her in the lowest three percent of House lawmakers, and that includes freshman Reps. who are political neophytes.

The Times-Union article quoted Daniel Smith, director of the University of Florida’s Political Campaigning Program saying, “It’s shocking. It’s shockingly low.”

In spite of Brown’s financial woes, she hired a high-priced lawyer to defend her from the Berger Hirshberg lawsuit. One legal source said, Fred Cooke, Brown’s lawyer, is one of the best connected African American lawyers in town, and “doesn’t come cheap.”

Neither Cooke nor Brown were available for comment.

The Berger Hirshberg lawsuit includes as an exhibit a contract signed by Simmons in July, 2009 and a letter from Brown’s campaign severing services on Aug. 31, 2010.

The letterhead for Brown’s notice severing services reads “CORRINE Delivers!”

According to the contract, 30 days notice was required to terminate it, so Brown would have had to pay through Sept. 30.

A filing from Brown urging the court to dismiss the case seizes on several technicalities, including that the contract was originally signed between Brown’s fledgling Senate campaign and Berger Hirshberg, not the Friends of Corrine Brown campaign committee that eventually started paying the fundraising consultants.

Importantly, the filing admits Brown didn’t pay Berger Hirshberg in July or August.

That’s strange, because Friends of Corrine Brown told the FEC in an Aug. 12 filing it paid Berger Hirshberg $15,140.56 on July 12 for “Fundraising Consulting Services.”