A mystery over Ney's legal bills

Embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) raised no money for his legal-defense fund in the second quarter, after having brought in $65,000 the previous quarter, according to recent public disclosures.

Embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) raised no money for his legal-defense fund in the second quarter, after having brought in $65,000 the previous quarter, according to recent public disclosures.

Ney created the fund in January to help foot legal bills stemming from his dealings with former Republican lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff.

The fund was expected to help pay Ney’s attorney, Mark Tuohey at Texas-based firm Vinson & Elkins, but thus far it has not made any disbursements, save for buying checks April 12.

In a telephone interview, Tuohey disputed assertions that Ney is not paying him.

“Don’t assume that because he hasn’t used any contributions [from the fund] he hasn’t paid his legal fees. I’m not doing it on a pro bono basis,” Tuohey said.

A spokeswoman for Ney, Katie Harbath, said that the fund is “still active” but that she could not answer further questions.

Ney appears to have few other resources to pay his legal bills. His most recent financial-disclosure filing showed a checking account with less than $1,000 in it and a rental home in Thessaloniki, Greece, passed down from his wife’s family, as his only assets, aside from his principal residence.

His campaign account, however, posted $419,000 in the bank the second quarter. His leadership PAC, American Liberty, had $34,000 at the end of June.

Another lawmaker facing legal questions, Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), the target of a Justice Department corruption investigation, raised $37,750 for his legal expense fund during the second quarter, about on par with the previous quarter’s take of $34,500.

Fundraising did not drop off despite the Justice Department’s decision to raid Jefferson’s Rayburn office May 20, a move that drew attention to the Louisianan’s legal woes. House leaders stoked media interest in the issue when they charged that the search violated the constitutional separation of powers.

A large portion of the Jefferson’s second-quarter funds came from a single $25,000 donor, Bobby Higginbotham of Carlsbad, Calif., the owner of a temp agency. Higginbotham is a Louisiana friend who had real-estate dealings with the congressman.

Among Jefferson’s other contributors was Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) who gave $500 of her own money. Other lawmakers gave to Jefferson in previous quarters, including Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

The contributions from Higginbotham and Lee were the only ones to come from outside of Louisiana last quarter.

Jefferson paid attorneys at three firms more than $120,000 since opening the fund last year. In the second quarter, he paid Trout & Cacheris PLLC, where principal attorney Robert Trout works, $20,000.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) upped his fundraising pace for his legal-expense fund after the House ethics committee voted earlier this year to create an investigative subcommittee to examine whether he should be disciplined for leaking a 1996 cell-phone recording of a conversation between House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans. McDermott has been embroiled in a lengthy civil legal battle with Boehner over the issue.

McDermott raised more than $61,000 in the second quarter, up from $12,000 the previous quarter. Most of the contributions came from small Seattle donors, although the Machinists Non-partisan Political League in Upper Marlboro, Md., kicked in $5,000, as did ice-cream maker Ben Cohen of Burlington, Vt.

McDermott paid no legal fees in the second quarter. Instead he spent more than $32,000 on fundraising, accounting and website development.

Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) has a legal-expense fund left over from a 2002 lawsuit filed by a onetime opponent, Republican Carolyn Grant, alleging that he defamed her in an ad. Although Grant withdrew the suit earlier this year, the congressman still has legal bills, spokeswoman LuAnn Canipe said.

He collected one $1,000 donation — from a Florida auto dealership — during the second quarter and paid no expenses.

One prominent political figure who won’t be disclosing his legal expenses is former Rep. Tom DeLay (D-Texas). Despite having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees earlier this year, the former majority leader is a private citizen and is no longer required to disclose such information, although he continues to fight multiple legal battles.

Lawmakers with legal-expense funds must file quarterly disclosures with the House ethics panel, known formally as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

Natalie McGill contributed to this report.