In a scandal with the potential to rock what is expected to be a hotly contested midterm race in the state of Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is now facing allegations that he improperly used campaign funds to pay legal expenses in a lawsuit that did not stem from his service as a public official, as Politico reports.
As the outlet noted on Wednesday, Warnock stands accused of misusing campaign funds to cover attorney fees incurred while defending a federal lawsuit that arose out of claims dating back to 2005, long before he was elected to his current office.
The initial lawsuit against the Senator was filed by Atlanta resident Melvin Robertson in 2019, and though that case was dismissed by a judge soon after, the matter was refiled by the plaintiff in April of 2021, and included the same accusations about Warnock’s conduct as a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
As Politico notes, by the time the matter was brought to court the second time, Warnock had taken his seat in the U.S. Senate, and he hired lawyers from Elias Law Group and Krevolin & Horst to defend him in the case and used campaign funds to do it.
According to guidance from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), campaign funds may only be used on “litigation expenses where the candidate/officeholder was the defendant and the litigation arose directly from campaign activity or the candidate’s status as a candidate.”
As election law attorney Caleb Burns told the outlet, “The rationale for this prohibition is to honor the campaign contributors’ intent that their contributions be used for political purposes and not, for example, to relieve the candidate of a personal obligation.”
Indeed, as Politico further reported, when Warnock attempted to secure a dismissal of the lawsuit in 2021, his attorneys specifically stated that the claims at issue “relate to actions purportedly taken in 2005 and 2008 when [Warnock] was not a federal employee.”
GOP lawyer Charlie Spies weighed in on the controversy, saying, “If Warnock is using campaign money to pay for a lawsuit that predates his running for office, then by definition it existed irrespective of his candidacy and would be impermissible to use campaign funds on.”
It will be up to the FEC to determine whether Warnock’s conduct amounts to knowing and willful” violations of campaign finance rules and warrant sanctions such as a financial fine. But either way, his race against Republican Herschel Walker, who has encountered criticism and supposed scandal of his own in recent weeks, is shaping up to be one to watch.