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After the first week of November, any unspent funds in Donald Trump’s campaign coffers could be sent to his personal foundation, or used for litigation battles.
Trump’s numerous threats to sue media companies over stories that he claims are false and refusal this week to accept the outcome of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 means that his campaign war chest, which had $34.7 million in it through September, could be used to fund other endeavors post-election.
Kenneth Gross, head of the political law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C., said Friday that Trump could move whatever money is left over in his campaign fund after the election to the Donald J. Trump Foundation or even use it to finance litigation.
“The key is you have to tie it in to the election—there can be no conversion for personal use,” said Gross, when asked whether Trump could use campaign donations to pay litigators.
Gross noted that libel suits are notoriously tough to win, but as long as Trump doesn’t bring a case or claim based on his business interests being hurt, he could dip into his presidential coffers to pay firms representing him in litigation related to the campaign. (Trump’s campaign war chest as taken in $163 million through September, about $57.1 million of which was donated by Trump himself.)
“He would have to claim that whatever happened [to him] somehow hurt his ability to win the election,” Gross said. “I’m not sure what the remedy would be, maybe money or a retraction.”
Gross cited the case of Ruthann Aron, a former real estate developer who lost a Republican primary in 1994 to William Brock III for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland. Brock, who then lost in a general election to current Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes, was sued by Aron for slander over comments he made about her during their primary fight.
Aron’s suit was the first time a losing candidate in a federal election brought a former political rival to court over what was said on the campaign trail. Aron lost the defamation case against Brock and in 1997 pleaded no contest to charges that she hired a hit man to kill her husband. (Aron, released from prison in 2000, earlier this year sought to overturn her initial guilty plea.)
Whether or not Trump has the appetite for such a court fight remains to be seen, although his track record of litigiousness precedes him. Trump, as previously noted by The American Lawyer, also has plenty of lawyers ready to pursue any future litigation battles.
According to Trump’s most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, he paid out $497,591.31 in legal fees during the month of September. The sum continued a series of record-setting expenditures on lawyers for Trump’s tumultuous presidential campaign, which saw its spending double last month to $70 million. (The nearly $500,000 in fees for September were almost half of what former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney accrued during the entire 2012 election cycle.)
The period covered by Trump’s Oct. 20 filing stopped just short of when he announced in early October his hire of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman to pursue a potential suit against The New York Times for publishing details from Trump’s 1995 tax returns. The firm, which is also representing the real estate mogul in New York litigation related to Trump University, and its founder Marc Kasowitz were called upon by Trump again last week to threaten the Times after the newspaper published a story about the former reality television star’s alleged sexual indiscretions.
Kasowitz Benson is not named in Trump’s most recent FEC filing, but the firm has previously received campaign funds, having been paid $69,000 for its services in July. (David Friedman, a Kasowitz Benson name partner with a long history of advising Trump-related entities, was named one of Trump’s Israel advisers in April.)
Jones Day, the Trump campaign’s lead outside counsel, received $322,558.86 for its services in September. LaRocca Hornik Rosen Greenberg & Blaha, a New York firm based in The Trump Building at 40 Wall Street, was paid $34,070.95, as fellow New York shop Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman took in $3,751.47. (Belkin Burden is working with Kasowitz Benson in the Trump University case.)
Parliamentary Strategies LLC, which as noted by The Daily Beast shares an office in Alexandria, Virginia, with civil litigation firm Harvey & Binnall, received $55,347.24 from the Trump campaign in September for legal consulting work. O’Melveny & Myers, a firm known for its work vetting candidates for previous presidential campaigns, was paid $21,072.72 for “research consulting.”
The American Lawyer reported in July on O’Melveny partner and former firm chair Arthur Culvahouse Jr. being retained by Trump to clear potential vice presidential candidates. Trump also paid $3,000 last month to solo practitioner Michael France in Sarasota, Florida; $5,000 to California’s Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk; and $73,862.79 to Locke Lord in Chicago.
A Locke Lord spokeswoman directed an inquiry about the firm’s work for Trump to the campaign. A Trump campaign spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.
As a matter of comparison, Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton paid $105,000 in September to Perkins Coie, a firm whose Democratic Party connections have been an issue during the presidential race. Washington, D.C.’s Utrecht, Kleinfeld, Fiori, Partners received another $13,652 for its services to the Clinton campaign in September.