January 14, 2016

Why Did Rep. Cardenas’ Legal Fees Skyrocket Last Quarter?

By Matt Corley

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) appears to be spending a lot of time with his lawyers lately. In the last three months, his campaign committee spent $131,470 on “legal services” with five separate law firms, according to new campaign finance records. The legal expenses, which are more than Rep. Cárdenas’ campaign spent in the three previous quarters combined, suggest that a federal investigation involving one of his aides has intensified.  

In April 2015, Gabriela Marquez, the top staffer in Rep. Cárdenas’ district office, informed the House of Representatives that
she had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. Roll Call reported at the time that Marquez had been questioned about whether staffers in Rep. Cárdenas office did campaign work on official time. Politico reported that the FBI was focusing on work Marquez did for other campaigns, not for Rep. Cárdenas.

Roll Call asked Rep. Cárdenas about the subpoena in April, he awkwardly said he couldn’t confirm anything about it, calling the situation “frustrating.” After being asked directly, Rep. Cárdenas said he had not been contacted by the FBI. He also declined to talk to the Los Angeles Times about the subpoena.

The subpoena was
first made public on April 16, 2015, when Marquez notified the House. Five days later, Roll Call reported on it. On April 28, Rep. Cárdenas’ campaign paid $25,000 to Hueston Hennigan LLP, a Los Angeles-based law firm. The next day, the campaign spent another $25,000 with Bird Marella P.C., another California firm.  In August, the campaign paid another $30,000 to Bird Marella and $20,000 to Hueston Hennigan. 

Rep. Cárdenas’ legal expenses
picked up considerably in the fall. The campaign paid an additional $50,000 to Bird Marella in October and November as well as another $20,000 to Hueston Hennigan in November. Three other firms were added to the team as well: Scheper Kim & Harris LLP ($28,970), Strumwasser & Woocher LLP ($25,000), and Huang Ybarra Singer & May LLP ($7,500).

It is unclear what triggered the upward trend in Rep. Cárdenas’ legal spending, though it could be connected to
subpoenas federal prosecutors issued in October to staff members of one of Rep. Cárdenas’ political allies, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez. An aide to another Cárdenas’ ally, retiring Los Angeles City Councilman Felipe Fuentes, testified before a grand jury last month. Staffers for all three politicians, including the subpoenaed Gabriela Marquez, reportedly worked to help another ally in a tight 2014 election, former California Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra.

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