Republicans filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission late Wednesday alleging that U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock violated campaign finance laws by using political contributions to defend himself against a lawsuit stemming from his work as a pastor.
The complaint from the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Warnock used campaign funds “for personal gain.”
The Georgia Democrat denied the charges.
”This was never a personal lawsuit. It was a frivolous lawsuit filed against multiple public figures and handled according to the law,” Warnock campaign manager Quentin Fulks said. The complaint came after Politico published a story raising questions about the expenditures.
At issue is a bizarre and meandering lawsuit that Atlanta resident Melvin Robertson filed against Warnock and other public figures in Georgia — including then-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former Gov. Sonny Perdue. Among Robertson’s claims: that as far back as 2005 Warnock conspired to entrap him, prevented him from getting work and contributed to the loss of items from a storage locker.
First filed in 2019, the suit was dismissed by a federal judge without any of the defendants being served. But Robertson refiled the suit in 2021. Newly elected to the U.S. Senate by then, Warnock tapped his campaign attorneys to handle the case and paid them from his campaign war chest. That lawsuit too was dismissed.
Republicans said Warnock’s actions were illegal because campaign contributions cannot be converted for personal use. Because the lawsuit pertains to alleged conduct before Warnock took office, that’s what took place, they said.
”Because the conduct that gave rise to the lawsuit occurred long before Warnock was a candidate for federal office, the conduct had nothing to do with Warnock’s now-status as a candidate and officeholder,” the complaint said.
Warnock’s camp said the expenditures were legal because the second lawsuit was filed while he was in office. Documents show the hand-written lawsuit was delivered to Warnock’s official Senate office. Other officials targeted in the lawsuit – a group that includes several federal judges – used government lawyers to defend them. Warnock’s aides say that’s proof these weren’t considered personal matters.
Warnock is seeking reelection this year. He is running against Republican Herschel Walker, who is facing his own FEC complaints from Democrats, allegations that his campaign called frivolous.