This morning’s USA Today reports that past and present members of Congress are using campaign donations to defend themselves in criminal or ethics investigations. Two dozen members have spent more than $5 million in fees for the last 27 months for which there are complete records.
For New Yorkers, this all sounds pretty familiar. As we noted in March, state politicians are allowed to use their campaign funds for legal defense if the investigation is “related to the political campaign or the holding of public office.” Similarly, the Federal Election Commission has ruled that it’s okay to use campaign funds as long as you’re defending yourself from charges connected to conduct in office.
If you think campaign donations induce lawmakers to give special access to contributors under normal circumstances, just imagine how much sway big donors have when they give to politicians who need the money to stay out of jail.