Former State Sen. Wayne Bryant, who faces sentencing tomorrow for his political-corruption conviction, has been barred from using his campaign money to pay for his criminal defense.
But that hasn't stopped him from putting his war chest to use.
Bryant has spent more than $108,000 of his campaign account to try to overturn the ban. If his effort succeeds, the once-powerful Camden County Democrat could use the more than $500,000 left in his campaign fund to pay for his legal team.
The state Election Law Enforcement Commission, which oversees campaign finances, has ruled that he can't use campaign money to fight corruption charges, saying criminal defense is not an "ordinary and necessary" part of holding public office.
Bryant, however, is fighting that decision, and he used $24,115 from his campaign fund on the cause in the second quarter of the year. The latest tab was included in finance reports filed July 15 that the commission posted online yesterday.
The money appears to be going toward preparations for a Supreme Court hearing.
Commission executive director Jeffrey Brindle and Bryant attorney Robert Zoller said they expected a hearing in the fall, though no date has been set.
"The commission is confident that it made the right decision, that it doesn't fall under the 'ordinary and necessary' language of the statute," Brindle said.
But Brindle said Bryant could use the money to fight the commission's ruling.
An appellate court last year unanimously upheld the commission's decision barring the use of campaign money for criminal cases. Bryant's attorneys argue that the court was wrong.
"He should have been able to use these funds to defend his fitness for office," Zoller said.
Bryant's latest campaign-finance reports show that he paid two firms - Genova, Burns & Vernoia of Newark, N.J., and Sterns & Weinroth of Trenton - to contest the commission's ruling.
In the first quarter of this year, Bryant spent $15,332 on the case, according to the campaign-finance reports.
As of the latest report, Bryant had $558,449 in his state campaign account.
Under commission rules, political candidates can generally use election money for six causes: campaigning, charity, donations to other candidates, overhead expenses, repaying donors, and ordinary and necessary costs of holding office.
Other lawmakers facing corruption charges, notably former State Sens. Sharpe James (D., Essex) and Joseph Coniglio (D., Bergen), used their campaign accounts for defense expenses. Bryant was stopped because he asked the commission for an opinion. The others did not.
Even after he was convicted, James doled out some of his remaining money to other candidates. Bryant has not.
Bryant is scheduled to be sentenced on charges of taking a $35,000-a-year job at the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford in exchange for political influence. He was also convicted of padding his pension with jobs at the school and Gloucester County Board of Social Services, where he did little or no work.
He was convicted on 12 counts. Prosecutors seek an eight- to 10-year sentence; Bryant's defense team has argued for far less.