Democratic Georgia senator Raphael Warnock might have violated federal law by paying campaign lawyers to represent him in a personal lawsuit, Politico reported Wednesday.
Warnock last year paid his campaign's lawyers, the Elias Law Group, to represent him in a personal lawsuit involving actions before he became a senator. That decision might have breached federal election law, experts say.
This is far from the first time Warnock, who this year will square off against Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a closely watched campaign, has faced legal trouble. Warnock's ex-wife says the Georgia senator harassed her and neglected their children. As the senior pastor of a Maryland church in 2002, Warnock repeatedly disrupted an investigation into child abuse at a church-sponsored summer camp, leading to his arrest.
Democratic superlawyer Marc Elias, whose law firm represents Warnock's campaign and received the campaign funds, called the payment "completely legal," saying the FEC has ruled that spending campaign money on personal expenses is permissible.
None of the FEC rulings that Elias cited, however, says anything about lawsuits in which the events occurred before the officeholder held office, Politico found.
Political law attorney Charlie Spies, a Republican, disagrees with Elias.
"If Warnock is using campaign money to pay for a lawsuit that predates his running for office," Spies told Politico, "then by definition it existed irrespective of his candidacy and would be impermissible to use campaign funds on."
"I don't think his donors are giving for him to fund personal lawsuits," Spies said.