Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock used campaign funds to pay for multiple law firms to defend him in a lawsuit related to his time serving as a church pastor, according to a Wednesday report from Politico.
Atlanta resident Melvin Robertson filed two similar lawsuits against Warnock, one in 2019 and the other in April 2021, accusing the Democratic senator of wrongdoing while serving as a senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2005, Politico reported.
Sen. Raphael Warnock used campaign money to cover legal expenses for a lawsuit relating to his time as a church minister — transactions that raise questions about whether the spending runs afoul of federal rules governing personal use of campaign fundshttps://t.co/OnRmM1wSlG
— POLITICO (@politico) July 6, 2022
When Robertson filed the second lawsuit after Warnock became a U.S. senator, Warnock used campaign funds to pay attorneys from Elias Law Group, Perkins Coie and Krevolin & Horst for his personal legal defense, Politico reported.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings show Warnock’s campaign paid top Democratic Party attorneys from Perkins Coie and Elias Law Group close to $300,000 to complete various work, including defending him against this personal lawsuit, according to Politico.
The report stated that attorneys from Krevolin & Horst were paid $1,183 from Warnock’s campaign to also handle work on the Robertson lawsuit.
Warnock possibly violated FEC guidelines that only allow campaign funds to be used to pay for litigation expenses when the officeholder is defending against litigation directly connected to his time as a candidate or campaign activity, according to Politico.
“Using campaign funds for personal use is prohibited. Commission regulations provide a test, called the ‘irrespective test,’ to differentiate legitimate campaign and officeholder expenses from personal expenses,” according to the FEC. “If the expense would exist even in the absence of the candidacy or even if the officeholder were not in office, then the personal use ban applies. Conversely, any expense that results from campaign or officeholder activity falls outside the personal use ban.”
Marc Elias, a top Democratic lawyer previously with Perkins Coie before splitting in 2021 to start Elias Law Group, called all the allegations against his client “frivolous.” (RELATED: SCOTUS Hands Democrat Election’ Fixer’s’ Law Firm Another Big Defeat)
“This frivolous lawsuit against Senator Reverend Warnock and other public officials was served at his official office and is based on laws that only apply to him because of his status as a sitting office holder,” Elias told Politico. “It’s completely legal and appropriate to have used campaign funds on this legal matter, as many federal officeholders have done before. Any suggestion otherwise is completely false.”
Republican political law attorney Charlie Spies told Politico it is irrelevant whether the lawsuits against Warnock are “frivolous” or have merit; the issue is whether Warnock can use campaign funds to pay for his defense against the litigation.
“If Warnock is using campaign money to pay for a lawsuit that predates his running for office, then by definition, it existed irrespective of his candidacy and would be impermissible to use campaign funs on,” Spies told the outlet. “The seriousness of the violation will depend on whether the FEC considers it to be knowing and willful.”