Weldon using campaign $$ to pay lawyers

If you contributed to U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon's failed re-election campaign, you may also be paying his lawyers to keep him out of jail.

Weldon, who lost his 7th District seat last year after his daughter and campaign adviser became part of an FBI probe, has been digging into his old campaign war chest to cover the mounting legal bills brought on by the investigation.

Federal Election Commission reports show that the former congressman, now an executive for a local defense contractor, has recouped money from TV ads that never aired and paid his attorneys $132,000 in the first quarter of this year.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said it's legal for Weldon to cover those fees with campaign contributions, but called it an "unfortunate practice" often used by politicians with legal troubles.

"From the donor's perspective, it really is not ideal," said Krumholz, who heads the watchdog group that tracks the money behind politics. "It doesn't really honor the reason for their donation."

Peter Barsz, Weldon's campaign treasurer, said he was not aware of any contributors asking for their money back.

According to campaign-finance reports, Weldon's coffers have been replenished with $158,000 from SSG Media Inc., which Barsz said are refunds for prepaid advertisements that never ran.

Trailing by double digits in the final days of the campaign, Weldon pulled some of his TV ads. His staff said at the time that the campaign preferred to use the money for "tele-town halls" - massive conference calls - to sway likely voters.

At least a portion of that money is now going to Weldon's attorneys.

The Philadelphia law firm Cozen O'Connor and Arthur Donato Jr., of Media, received $50,000 each in February from the Weldon Victory Committee. Three other firms have been paid $32,000 in legal fees from the fund.

"I've known him since day one, and if I give him money, I don't put a string attached to it," said James Wescott, CEO of Wescott Electric Co., who contributed $1,000 to Weldon.

Investigators are looking into whether Weldon used his influence to help his daughter, Karen, and senior campaign adviser Charles Sexton secure about $1 million in overseas public relations contracts. *