Officials study Bryant's campaign money

January 15, 2008 12:34:24 PM PST
State election law officials will spend the next two weeks deciding whether former state Sen. Wayne Bryant can use his campaign cash to pay the legal bills stemming from his indictment on federal corruption charges. Bryant's request to the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission was the first time anyone has sought approval to use campaign money to defend against criminal charges.

The commission will take two weeks to decide after a Tuesday hearing on his request.

Commissioner Albert Burstein said the panel needed time "given the seriousness of the questions involved."

Bryant didn't seek re-election after 25 years in the Legislature, and his term expired on Jan. 8.

The Camden County Democrat's latest campaign report showed he has $642,500 available.

Bryant was indicted in April on 20 counts of using his clout as head the Senate budget chairman to steer millions in grants to two state schools that gave him no-show jobs, and using those and other jobs to triple his publicly funded pension.

He has pleaded not guilty and a trial is set for April 14.

His attorney, Richard Weinroth, argued Bryant should be allowed to use his campaign money to defend against the charges because they're tied to his elected duties.

"There is a direct relationship between Sen. Bryant's office holding and the pending charges," Weinroth said.

But Commissioner Peter J. Tober wondered, "Where does the commission draw the line?"

And Commissioner Chairwoman Jerry Fitzgerald English questioned whether contributors intend to have their money used to defend against criminal charges.

"It's hard for me to believe that when they gave that $10 that they - the public - thought this was going to go beyond a yard sign," she said.

Weinroth said contributors have no say on how their donation is used.

"A contributor really has no expectation that they will have any impact on the moneys they have contributed," he said.

ELEC has previously decided that elected officials could use campaign contributions for election recounts and to defend against defamation, civil campaign spending violation charges and to appear before a legislative ethics committee.


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