Then- U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., in 2007. (Photo by RICK MCKAY/Cox Washington Bureau)
Photo: Rick McKay/Cox
Photo: Rick McKay/Cox

Watchdog: Ex-Ga. lawmaker improperly spent thousands on travel, family after retirement

The Campaign Legal Center alleged that Linder, a conservative Republican who represented a suburban Atlanta U.S. House district from 1993 to 2011, illegally used the money on salaries for his children, phone and internet bills and a trip to Alaska in a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission earlier this week. 

The nonpartisan group alleged that Linder was using the campaign donations for personal expenses, which is illegal under federal law. 

“A candidate cannot pocket their campaign funds or use their campaign funds for a vacation or to subsidize the lifestyles of their children,” said Brendan Fischer, the Campaign Legal Center’s director of federal reform.

Linder, who was nominated for an ambassadorial position last week, defended the expenses and insisted none of them were improper.

“My expectation is they’re trying to muddy the waters,” Linder said of the Campaign Legal Center, pointing to some of the nonprofit’s more liberal donors. “Everything that has been reported has been in my background search by the State Department and approved for my security clearance.”

After Linder left Congress in January 2011, he kept his campaign committee operating for three years. During that time, he paid his daughter $51,000 for consulting work and spent more than $2,400 for internet service and nearly $3,000 on an Apple computer, according to the complaint. 

Linder then converted the account into a multi-candidate political action committee. Since 2015, FAIRPAC has paid more than $72,000 to Linder’s son and daughter for consulting, thousands on phone and internet service and upwards of $4,000 on airfare and hotels, including a trip to Alaska, according to the complaint. FAIRPAC also donated about $16,000 to other candidates and charity.

“If you’re no longer an officeholder and you’re no longer a candidate, you’re really supposed to only be using campaign funds to make contributions to other candidates or donations to charity,” said Fischer. 

Linder said he was not using the leftover campaign money for personal expenses. 

“Almost all” of the travel, he said, was connected to promoting the Fair Tax, his signature policy issue when he was on Capitol Hill that he turned into a bestselling book with radio talk show host Neal Boortz. The proposal seeks to replace federal personal and corporate income taxes with a national retail sales tax. 

“Since I retired, I probably went to 10 to 20 different meetings in different states to speak on the Fair Tax. Almost always it was paid for by others and sometimes I’d pay for part of it myself,” Linder said. “I see it as a valid expense because I’m still pursuing the Fair Tax.”

Linder said he paid his daughter and later his son $1,500 a month to file required financial forms for his campaign committee and then his PAC, a fee that he indicated was below market rate. He also defended his use of old campaign funds for internet and phone payments. 

Fischer called the fees paid to Linder’s children “excessive.” 

A dentist by training, Linder served seven terms in Georgia’s General Assembly before entering Congress as a top lieutenant to soon-to-be Speaker Newt Gingrich. He was succeeded by Rob Woodall, his longtime aide and protégé, in his Gwinnett-based 7th District. 

The FEC complaint came days after Linder was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an intergovernmental organization based in Indonesia.

Fischer said the timing of the report was coincidental and had nothing to do with the announcement of Linder’s ambassadorial nomination, which requires Senate confirmation. 

The Campaign Legal Center has devoted considerable time over the last two years to investigating so-called “zombie campaigns,” the fundraising accounts used by former lawmakers and candidates after they’ve left public life. 

The group also leveled a similar FEC complaint against former Congressman Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., this week and previously highlighted the activity of accounts created for ex-U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and the late Congressman Mark Takai, D-Hawaii. 

A provision seeking to restrict zombie campaign spending was included in the elections and ethics overhaul cleared by the U.S. House last week on a party-line vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the upper chamber will not take up the bill. 

An FEC spokeswoman said the agency’s Office of General Counsel couldn’t confirm that it received the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint. She said federal campaign finance law requires the agency to keep the case confidential until it is resolved. 

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