Oct 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: House Republican fundraises off prosecution

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is seen in a headshot.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee's agriculture panel raised money for a legal defense fund with claims he’s facing federal prosecution that a spokesperson later disavowed.

Driving the news: On a fundraising page for a new legal expense fund — which was later taken off-line — Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) wrote: "[President] Biden’s FBI is using its unlimited power to prosecute me on a bogus charge."

  • Neither Fortenberry nor the FBI responded immediately to requests for comments, but a Fortenberry spokesperson later said the congressman "never saw or approved that language."
  • The investigation in question, the spokesperson said, had to do with illegal campaign contributions by a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire to a number of congressional Republicans.
  • “It’s been previously reported that the FBI investigated an effort by a foreign national to illegally funnel money to U.S. political campaigns, including Rep. Fortenberry’s," he wrote.
  • "The people involved in that scheme were prosecuted and no charges were filed against him. This legal expense trust was established in part to address costs associated with that investigation.”

Between the lines: Fortenberry's present-tense appeal was made after his campaign committee paid a new law firm over the summer, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Until Axios posted a story Monday morning, Fortenberry's legal expense fund was soliciting contributions of up to $5,000 per donor per year. Under House rules, the fund may accept donations from individuals, corporations and political action committees but not registered lobbyists.

  • Records on file with the House clerk showed Fortenberry established the legal expense fund on August 27.
  • "Unlike Swamp Creature Nancy Pelosi, I’m a principled conservative who has NEVER abused my seat in Congress to get wealthy," its fundraising page said. "And right now I'm facing the Deep State's bottomless pockets."

Records show he also has enlisted a digital consultant who helped launch a legal expense fund for former Trump administration official Kash Patel.

  • Web domain registration records show the firm Believe Media registered websites for both Patel's "Legal Offense Trust" and the Jeff Fortenberry Legal Expense Trust.

Fortenberry, 60, is a former local economist and Lincoln City Council member who's represented Nebraska's 1st District since 2005.

  • He's currently the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

Editors note: This post and its headline have been updated to show that Fortenberry's fundraising page was quickly taken down, and to add comments from a Fortenberry spokesperson.

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