Rep. Corrine Brown (D., Fla.) is seeking donations to her legal defense fund after being hit with criminal charges, claiming in her plea for cash that she has been targeted due to her efforts to fight racism in Washington.
Brown, who has been in Congress for over 20 years, was indicted in July on 24 counts of fraud stemming from activities performed by a foundation established by the congresswoman.
One Door for Education, the Virginia-based charity founded by Brown, accepted more than $800,000 in donations over the course of four years. During this time, only two checks totaling $1,200 went toward charitable purposes, the Justice Department said in its indictment.
Federal authorities determined that money from the foundation was instead used to personally benefit Brown, her chief of staff, and the foundation’s president, Carla Wiley. Wiley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in March. Authorities discovered that more than $200,000 of the foundation’s funds was spent on goods and services such as NFL tickets, luxury vacations, car repairs, and plane tickets.
Brown has now set up a fundraising website to help fight the charges. The landing page for the site contains a message to her supporters claiming that the indictments are a witch hunt due to her work fighting racism and injustice.
"During my entire political career, I have fought racism, injustice and advocated for individuals who normally get left behind," the message reads. "It should come as no surprise that some took offense to my efforts to stand up for you."
"They redrew my District in order to make it harder for me to be re-elected. Then sadly, on July 8, 2016, I was falsely accused by the Federal government," it continues. "It is not a coincidence that these charges were filed immediately prior to my August 30th Primary Election, which I ultimately lost. I am a woman of integrity and I categorically deny the charges."
The letter goes on to claim that the Justice Department is trying to take away Brown’s freedom and that she needs money to fight the criminal charges.
"I am fighting the Department of Justice, which has unlimited resources. They have smeared my good name. They are trying to take my freedom. I am asking for your help to fight these false charges. On this website, you can make a donation to my legal defense fund. Any contribution would be greatly appreciated," it concludes.
The Corrine Brown Legal Defense Trust was established in 2010. A previous review of records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon found that the defense trust has received thousands in donations from registered lobbyists, which is prohibited by House ethics rules.
The fund has received $5,750 in contributions from three registered lobbyists. One of the lobbyists told the Free Beacon that Brown’s chief of staff solicited his contribution, and that he was unaware ethics rules prohibited Brown from accepting the donation.
"I take my lobbying disclosure and ethical responsibilities very seriously," the lobbyist said in an email statement at the time. "Accordingly, after I received your email, I called the House Ethics Committee to ask if my mistake violated any rules and, if so, to self-report a violation. I was advised that rule only prohibits Members from accepting such contributions and I therefore did not violate any rules by making it. While a relief, I still made a mistake assuming it was permissible when I was asked to make it."
Brown lost her primary in Florida’s 5th congressional district in August as she was fighting the government’s accusations.
Brown’s office did not return a request for comment on the trust’s new fundraising effort.