FEC tosses complaint claiming Gaetz used campaign funds for trafficking probe defense

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Federal election authorities have thrown out a complaint against Rep. Matt Gaetz that contended he was improperly using campaign funds to pay attorneys who were helping him during a long-running federal investigation.

The Justice Department in February ended its probe of the firebrand congressmember that began in late 2020 during the Trump administration and centered on allegations of sex trafficking. Gaetz (R-Fla.) steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout the probe.

While that investigation was still underway, a political rival filed a complaint that alleged that his campaign paid various law firms to help with an investigation into Gaetz’s personal activities. Gaetz’s campaign paid nearly $200,000 in legal fees between November 2020 and October 2021, including payments to an attorney who primarily handles criminal cases.

But Federal Election Commission records recently released show that the commission voted 5-0 last month to toss the complaint filed against Gaetz by Cris Dosev, who has run twice against Gaetz in the GOP primary for the northwest Florida congressional seat.

Gaetz hailed the decision.

“Cris Dosev has lost every FEC complaint he has filed as a gadfly — and every election he has run in as a candidate, including two to me,” Gaetz said in a text message. “Here’s hoping he finds less expensive, more productive hobbies for himself going forward.”

The commission relied on a legal analysis from its attorneys that concluded that “available information does not show” that the campaign’s payments “went to legal representation to Gaetz personally.” The analysis also states that part of what Gaetz was under investigation for included allegations about improper use of campaign funds, which meant the campaign could hire a lawyer to help with that.

Gaetz’s campaign submitted a response signed by Marc Fernich, a well-known Manhattan defense attorney whose past clients included Jeffrey Epstein, who told the FEC that “any payments my office received from [Friends of Matt Gaetz] were for legal services performed for and on behalf of Friends itself, not Rep. Gaetz personally. To my knowledge, the same is true of payments to Friends’ predecessor counsel, Venable, LLP and Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.”

Dosev blasted the FEC in a text message and said election regulators “never really referenced the basis of the allegations in their response. ... There is a two tier justice system and it is clearly more evident every day that passes.”

Federal prosecutors and the FBI began investigating Gaetz over potential sex trafficking crimes related to allegations he’d paid women for sex and traveled overseas on at least one occasion to parties attended by teenagers who were not yet 18. Federal authorities also looked into whether Gaetz had obstructed justice due to a call Gaetz and the lawmaker’s girlfriend had with a witness.