Democrat Patrick Murphy is fast racking up legal expenses for his U.S. Senate campaign -- averaging $1,288 a day over less than six weeks this summer.
Murphy's campaign describes it as run-of-the-mill campaign costs, but the Jupiter congressman's pre-primary disclosure to the Federal Election Commission this month shows his political legal expenses mounting at an atypical pace.
Murphy reported spending $52,800 on legal services between July 1 and Aug. 10 -- almost double the $27,200 he spent on legal fees for the entire second quarter (the three months between April and June) and roughly half of what he's spent on legal fees in the past 13 months altogether.
Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp declined to say what exactly Murphy's legal fees were going toward.
"It's normal for campaigns to pay lawyers to make sure we're always following the law, and the larger the campaign, the more moving pieces there are," Karp said in a statement to the Herald/Times.
But by comparison, a handful of other top Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in similarly competitive races this year haven't spent nearly as much as Murphy on legal fees as their campaigns also ramped up and as they employed the same law firm. In fact, Murphy spent more in less than six weeks than four such candidates did in the preceding three months combined.
Between April and June, Katie McGinty of Pennsylvania, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Ted Strickland of Ohio together spent just $35,400 on legal costs. Each used Seattle-based Perkins Coie for their legal work, an elite firm often used by Democratic candidates, including Murphy.
Not all had such low expenses; Tammy Duckworth of Illinois came close to matching Murphy's legal spending in the second quarter with $24,600 in fees to Perkins Coie. (None of these five have pre-primary reports due this month, because their state primaries are held at a different time than Florida's.)
The Senate Leadership Fund, a major conservative super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, highlighted Murphy's pre-primary legal costs on Monday, implying the irregularly high legal fees during that six-week period are related to FEC complaints filed against Murphy this summer.
In June, the Senate Leadership Fund alleged Murphy was involved with a "straw donor scheme" because of similar donations that went to both him and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, himself a U.S. Senate candidate six years ago.
When asked if Murphy's legal expenses were related to defending against such FEC complaints, Karp deflected by attacking the Senate Leadership Fund and Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
"The frivolous complaints filed by Marco Rubio's special interest allies aren't worth the paper they're printed on, so we don't have to spend significant time or resources on them," Karp said.
Noting that Murphy's legal expenses have outpaced other Democratic Senate candidates in similar battleground states, Ian Prior, spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, said in an email: "If Murphy thinks that’s a sign of a 'normal' and growing campaign unconcerned by multiple election law complaints, maybe he should spend the next two months campaigning in Disney World’s Fantasyland."
During the pre-primary period, Murphy's report showed $36,500 of his campaign funds went to Perkins Coie and $16,300 went to Washington, D.C.-based Miller & Chevalier. In the first and second quarters of this year, Murphy's reports included respective totals of $12,600 and $27,200 in payments for legal services -- for $92,600 spent altogether on legal fees since Jan. 1.
By comparison, the national Senate Leadership Fund super PAC -- which has raised more than twice as much money as Murphy's candidate committee has this cycle -- reported about $90,000 in legal expenses this year, often with monthly payments of $15,000.
Since July 1 of last year -- or over a 13-month period -- the super PAC has spent almost $119,000 on legal fees, FEC records show, while Murphy spent $103,000 on legal fees over that same stretch.
For its part, Rubio's U.S. Senate campaign has yet to report any money spent on legal fees since he declared his re-election bid in late June. (Karp said Rubio spent $160,000 in legal fees during his unsuccessful bid for president -- a nationwide campaign that lasted about a year.)
Murphy's main primary rival, Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, reported a total of $59,100 in campaign legal expenses in the nine months between July 1, 2015 and March 31 of this year. More recent figures aren't available for comparison, because Grayson's pre-primary report is not yet available, and his quarterly report for April through June was incorrect and an amended report has yet to be logged with the FEC.
Photo credit: Steve Cannon / AP