Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock (GA) used campaign cash to fund his legal expenses for a lawsuit related to his time as a church minister, not as a Senate candidate, raising legal questions about spending campaign funds for personal use, according to a Politico report.
The case was filed in 2019 by an Atlanta resident, Melvin Robertson, with allegations dating back to 2005, but was dismissed by a Georgia federal court judge before any of the defendants were served. But Robertson filed a similar lawsuit in April 2021 against the senator and Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where he was a pastor.
Warnock has retained Elias Law Group — his campaign attorneys — to represent him in the case with another Atlanta-based firm, Krevolin & Horst. Politico explained that the relevant legal question is whether he improperly used campaign funds, which would violate federal ethics laws.
“This frivolous lawsuit against Senator Reverend Warnock and other public officials was served at his official office and is based on laws that only apply to him because of his status as a sitting office holder,” Marc Elias, told Politico. “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.”
The campaign has paid Elias Law Group $66,000 since October, according to FEC disclosures. Before that, Warnock for Georgia paid Perkins Coie, the firm from which Mark Elias and other attorneys split, $210,000 between July 2020 and December 2021.
Warnock’s campaign paid Krevolin & Horst, another firm listed in Warnock’s filings in the case, $1,183 — meaning the firm likely has not done extensive work for Warnock’s campaign other than handling the Robertson case.
A Republican political law attorney who served as Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign counsel and to the Republican National Committee, Charlie Spies, said the relevant question is whether Warnock would have encountered the same expenses as a private citizen, which he answers “yes.”
“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,” Spies said.