Federal sex crime investigations don’t pay.
That appears to be one takeaway—among many—from the year that has befallen beleaguered Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).
After two breakneck fundraising quarters to kick off 2021, his campaign committee, Friends of Matt Gaetz, ended with a $94,838.65 loss on the year, according to a report filed on Monday with the Federal Election Commission.
Those first six months saw record fundraising for the three-term Republican, and it likely would have been a banner year if it weren’t for the investigation, which is examining whether Gaetz sex-trafficked a 17-year-old girl, illegally paid for sex, obstructed justice, violated the Mann Act, and played a role in an allegedly corrupt political influence campaign—and additionally whether his campaign broke the law in furthering any of those possible crimes.
All told, the Gaetz campaign hemorrhaged well over a million dollars in costs last year that appear associated with the investigation and related fallout—more than one out of every five dollars raised in the same period. And even though the Gaetz campaign ended the year with a bit over $1.5 million in the bank, it's highly unusual for a congressman to spend more money in a non-election year than the campaign takes in.
Asked for comment, Gaetz pointed to his 2020 pledge not to accept special interest funds.
“I’m the only Republican in Congress who doesn’t take lobbyist or PAC money. I rely exclusively on donations that average around $38. HBO made a movie about it called The Swamp,” Gaetz said, referring to a documentary that chronicles Gaetz and other Republicans’ relationships in Washington.
(On Monday, the Trump campaign announced an average donation of $31 over the last six months.)
As for Gaetz’s legal troubles, more than $100,000 of his campaign’s disbursements on the year went to lawyers. That’s significantly more than the total $73,515 the campaign paid in legal fees since the Florida man’s first congressional bid in 2016. (That 2021 total would have been more than $130,000, but one firm returned its $25,000 retainer after severing ties with the campaign over the summer under unclear circumstances.)
In fact, Friends of Matt Gaetz paid more than its previous four-year total to one lawyer alone this year—$75,000 to Marc Fernich, who has represented convicted sex traffickers Jeffrey Epstein and Keith Raniere, as well as mobster John Gotti and imprisoned drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Fernich pocketed $50,000 in campaign cash last quarter.
One former Gaetz attorney, however, appears to have retained a degree of confidence in the Panhandle Republican. On May 15 this year, troubled porn lawyer, neo-Nazi defender, and Alex Jones Sandy Hook defamation attorney Marc Randazza—who received $2,000 from the Gaetz campaign in 2018—appeared to take up for Gaetz in response to a Twitter comment about the congressman possibly misusing public funds to buy drugs.
“He’s worth hundreds of millions in family money. If he even paid for the coke, I don’t see it as him misusing taxpayer money,” Randazza, who has represented alt-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, tweeted.
But while Fernich might boast deep expertise in sex crimes, he has no experience with campaign finance law. And the campaign, with its accounting under the microscope, spent big on compliance fees.
Between July and the end of September, the campaign paid roughly $85,000 to one firm for campaign finance services, far outstripping those costs from any other reporting period. Last quarter’s fees were less steep but still inordinate—$55,000.
And while Gaetz’s public relations expenses have fallen considerably since the brutal first weeks after the news of the probe broke last spring, they still took a chunk out of the campaign’s annual total. His go-to firm, Logan Circle Group, reaped about $850,000 in PR consulting and advertising fees in 2021. Those public relations costs dropped considerably as Gaetz began keeping his mouth shut and the investigation news cycle slowed, with only a single $2,750 check cut in the last three months, in late October.
As is customary for MAGA fixtures like Gaetz, the campaign paid its tributes to Donald Trump, tithing more than $2,200 to Trump properties in 2021. More than half of it came during the final months—$729 on Nov. 2 for lodging at Mar-a-Lago, and $445 for a late-October meal at Trump International Hotel in D.C.
On the other side of last quarter’s ledger, Gaetz raised $524,000, slightly outperforming his $500,000 summer, but only accounting for about 11 percent of his total $4.8 million for the election cycle to date.
Gaetz is also still politically exiled. He received no money from other officials or groups last quarter, and the only support he gave was a $2,000 transfer to Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who spearheaded the efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
Gaetz’s joint fundraising committee with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) also appears to have all but officially gone bust. The two right-wing bomb-throwers never really made money from the jump. Everything they took in went right back out the door. But their final quarter in 2021 was notably bad.
The joint fundraising committee received one donation since the end of September—from Gaetz himself.
The $18,922 transfer from Gaetz’s campaign to the Gaetz-Greene enterprise appears to have been necessary to pay off the PAC’s final outstanding obligations. The committee, “Put America First,” has no money left.