Collins used campaign funds to pay for legal services for a year

Collins used campaign funds to pay for legal services for a year
© Greg Nash

Indicted Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify Indicted lawmaker angers GOP with decision to run for reelection Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls MORE (R-N.Y.) spent more than $200,000 in campaign funds since mid-2017 to pay the law firm defending him against securities fraud and insider trading charges, Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings show.

Collins's campaign paid law firm Baker Hostetler almost monthly for legal services related to the ethics inquiries into Collins, a spokesman for the lawmaker's legal team told The Hill. 

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A federal indictment unsealed by prosecutors in New York City on Wednesday accuses Collins of using his position on the board of Australian drugmaker Innate Immunotherapeutics to provide nonpublic information to his son and others that helped them avoid stock losses.

The legal team spokesman said that Collins's personal funds were used to pay for legal services related to the criminal investigation.

His son, Cameron Collins, and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron's fiancée, were also charged with multiple counts of securities and wire fraud on Wednesday. They have all pleaded not guilty.

The payments from Collins's campaign to the law firm began in July 2017 with an initial transfer of about $45,000, according to the filings. The most recent transfer came in June.

The largest payment, just under $61,000, came a little over a month later. The payments are just described as being for "legal services" on the FEC filings. 

Collins's legal team did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Collins has denied the allegations and has vowed to fight the charges in court. He said at a brief press appearance on Wednesday evening that he would continue to seek reelection in spite of the indictment.

It's not illegal to use campaign funds to pay for legal fees. But the revelation is likely to fuel criticism of Collins by political opponents heading into the November midterm elections. 

Collins is facing off with Democrat Nate McMurray in a district widely seen as safe for Republicans. President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE won the district in 2016 by 24 points, and Collins won reelection that same year by about 34 points.

But Collins's legal troubles have energized Democrats in New York's 27th District, fueling prospects of an increasingly competitive race.

Updated at 7:05 p.m.