Rep. Visclosky can use campaign funds for legal costs

The Federal Election Commission on Thursday agreed to allow Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) to use campaign funds to pay legal fees and expenses related to a federal investigation into whether an influential defense lobby firm made improper political contributions to him.

The FEC concluded that Visclosky can use campaign funds to pay the legal fees for himself and his staff members, because those expenses “incurred by the staff members in connection with the investigation would not exist irrespective of Visclosky’s campaign or duties as a federal officeholder,” according to a statement released Thursday.

Visclosky’s campaign treasurer sent a letter to the FEC in March seeking an advisory opinion allowing the use of campaign funds to pay expenses relating to the FBI's investigation of contributions from the now-defunct PMA Group and its clients.

Visclosky disclosed at the end of May that federal law enforcement officials issued subpoenas for his congressional and campaign offices as well as some of his employees. Federal investigators are looking into whether the PMA Group and its owner, Paul Magliocchetti, made illegal campaign contributions to lawmakers. Visclosky was one of the top recipients of campaign money from PMA and its associates.

Rich Kaelin, Visclosky’s former chief of staff, was a lobbyist at the now-defunct firm. The FBI raided PMA in November.

Soon after Visclosky disclosed that his office has been subpoenaed, his chief of staff, Chuck Brimmer, resigned. Visclosky’s office said that Brimmer “has retired.”

Visclosky asked another lawmaker to oversee his panel's main appropriations bill while he deals with the federal investigation. Visclosky is the chairman of the Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee.

Earlier this year, Visclosky reported that he was sending $18,000 in campaign contributions to the federal treasury after conducting an audit of his fundraising.

At least $16,000 that Visclosky is returning comes from two men in Florida listed in FEC documents as PMA employees and associates. The two men, one a sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Amelia Island and the other a golf marketing director on the same beach resort, were on PMA’s board of directors but had no connection to lobbying or politics, according to several reports.