Why Charlie Rangel can use campaign funds for his legal defense

Most of the campaign cash Charlie Rangel has raised this election cycle has gone to legal fees, according to his campaign finance reports. I go into more detail on the law firms — and who would give to his campaign, knowing this fact — in my column today, but I wanted to address in more depth the question of why he can do this.

The House Ethics Committee explains:

Payment of Certain Legal Expenses. The Standards Committee has determined that it is generally permissible under House Rules for a Member to use campaign funds to defend legal actions arising out of his or her campaign, election, or the performance of official duties.  The basis of this determination is that the protection of a Member’s presumption of innocence in such actions is a valid political purpose.  Use of campaign funds to pay the legal expenses incurred in other kinds of legal actions may also be permissible.  However, campaign funds may not be used when the action is primarily personal in nature, such as a matrimonial action, or could result in a direct personal benefit for the Member.

So, you see, basically any legal defense — even if it’s for a charge or suit completely unrelated to your official duties or your role as a candidate — can be billed to your campaign, because any defense counts as “protection of a Member’s presumption of innocence,” which is “a valid political purpose.”

That’s why the Daily News wrote last week that Rangel’s personal financial well-being — if he were to face criminal or civil charges — depends on his staying in office.

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