Patrick Murphy Campaign Legal Spending Spikes

Florida Democrat spends more money on lawyers after FEC complaint

Patrick Murphy
Patrick Murphy / AP
August 23, 2016

Patrick Murphy's Senate campaign is spending three times more money on lawyers than it did earlier in the campaign and also added a new firm to its legal team.

The Murphy campaign has spent nearly $900 per day on "legal services" from Perkins Coie since the beginning of July, according to the campaign’s FEC filing covering the period between July 1 and Aug. 10. The campaign made five payments to the law firm totaling $36,477 during that period.

Murphy also brought on a new firm in recent months, making four payments totaling $16,330, all categorized as "legal fees," to D.C. law firm Miller & Chevalier.

This is far more than the campaign spent earlier in the campaign on lawyers. In the first quarter of 2016, spanning Jan. 1 to March 31, the campaign made just two payments to Perkins Coie totaling $12,618, which amounts to about $138 per day on lawyers. Legal spending more than doubled the next quarter, as the campaign made three payments totaling $27,173, or $299 per day, to Perkins Coie.

The Murphy campaign did not respond to questions from the Washington Free Beacon about the reason for the spike in legal spending, but it told the Tampa Bay Times that "it's normal for campaigns to pay lawyers to make sure we're always following the law."

Legal experts who spoke to the Free Beacon said there is nothing normal about the amount of money that Murphy is spending on lawyers.

"The typical legal fees for a U.S. Senate campaign that retains a law firm for election law compliance advice would be in the four to seven thousand range," said a leading campaign finance lawyer in Washington, D.C. "It might ramp up to nine thousand in the final months of a campaign but you don't see numbers like $36,000 for FEC work alone."

The lawyer said the spending increase could be caused by a variety of things, including FEC complaints, issues with the House Ethics Committee, or a criminal inquiry the campaign received from a Department of Justice attorney.

"When you are talking about the criminal side, you can definitely rack up significant legal fees in a hurry," said the lawyer. "The spike in legal spending creates the inference that a criminal review could be heating up—that's a very plausible conclusion."

Miller & Chevalier, known for its tax practice, is much less used by campaigns than Perkins Coie, one of the most popular law firms on the Democratic side. Miller & Chevalier specializes in congressional investigations. A Washington Free Beacon analysis found that three of the four campaigns that have hired the firm in the past two cycles have been for congressmen under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.), Rep. Mike Honda (D., Calif.), and Rep. Judy Chu (D., Calif.), all targets of ethics investigations, have dished out tens of thousands of dollars to Miller & Chevalier.

The House Ethics Committee received a complaint in June, just before the spike in legal costs, that said that Murphy was illegally trading legislative favors for financial support.

Murphy has had to respond to several other legal complaints during his Senate campaign.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civil Trust (FACT) complained to the FEC in May that the Murphy campaign was coordinating with a Super PAC. The transparency group said a company that Murphy is a major stockholder in, and that is owned by Murphy’s father, is bankrolling a pro-Murphy Super PAC. The group said it is "simply unrealistic" to believe there is no coordination between the campaign and the Super PAC through the company.

Matthew Whitaker, FACT's executive director, said the amount Murphy has spent on lawyers is "unusual," but not surprising.

"It is really unusual for a Senate candidate to spend that much on lawyers, but Congressman Murphy has had several ethical issues that would need legal help to attempt to resolve," said Whitaker.

Murphy has also been accused of receiving "illegal straw donations" from a wealthy Saudi Arabian oligarch and Clinton Foundation donor who has been convicted of domestic violence charges.

Similar allegations led to criminal charges that put the father of Rep. Ami Bera (D., Calif.) in federal prison for more than a year.

Murphy's spending on lawyers exceeds that of other Democratic Senate candidates who work with Perkins Coie. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, for example, spent just $6,283.50 on legal services last quarter. Nevada's Catherine Cortez Masto spent $8,000, Pennsylvania's Katie McGinty spent $12,701, and Ohio's Ted Strickland spent $8,372. All of the candidates spent less in three months than Murphy spent in the past 41 days.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), who Murphy hopes to face in November's general election, has not spent any money on legal services since he launched his reelection bid in June, according to his FEC filings.