Sen. Raphael Warnock has been hit with allegations that he misused campaign funds to defend himself against a federal lawsuit stemm
Sen. Raphael Warnock has been hit with allegations that he misused campaign funds to defend himself against a federal lawsuit stemming from his time as a pastor, according to a report out Wednesday.
Atlanta resident Melvin Robertson initially sued Warnock (D-Ga.) in 2019 over allegations dating back to 2005, when Warnock led the city’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. That suit was dismissed by a federal judge in Georgia without any of the defendants being served, Politico reported.
Robertson sued again in April 2021, making the same allegations against Warnock and naming the church and other public officials as defendants, the report said.
Warnock used his campaign lawyers from Elias Law Group to defend him in the case, along with Atlanta-based firm Krevolin & Horst.
According to the Federal Election Commission, campaign money can 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.”
“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,” Caleb Burns, an attorney who specializes in election law, told Politico.
Warnock campaign officials have said they believed they were free to use the funds because the lawsuit was filed while Warnock was a senator — and served at his Senate office in the Georgia capital.
“It’s completely legal and appropriate to have used campaign funds on this legal matter, as many federal office holders have done before. Any suggestion otherwise is completely false,” powerful Democratic attorney Marc Elias told Politico in a statement.
However, the outlet notes, when Warnock’s legal team attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed last year, it pointed out that Robertson’s claims “relate to actions purportedly taken in 2005 and 2008, when he [Warnock] was not a federal employee.”
“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,” Republican attorney Charlie Spies contended to Politico, later adding: “I don’t think his donors are giving for him to fund personal lawsuits.”
The consequences for Warnock’s campaign depend on whether the FEC determines that “knowing and willful” violations occurred, with a fine the most likely outcome.
Warnock is expected to face a tight battle in November against Republican Herschel Walker. The race has already turned nasty, with Democrats accusing Walker of violating campaign finance law by exceeding spending limits set for unannounced candidates before he officially filed to run for office.
Walker’s campaign is also accused of coordinating with the re-election effort of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on a series of political ads without disclosing their involvement.
The Walker campaign has rejected both accusations.