NEW YORK -- Payments that Anthony Weiner made to security consultants in 2011 soon after he was driven from Congress in a sexting scandal should be investigated for potential violations of federal campaign spending rules, campaign finance experts told The Huffington Post.
On Sunday, the New York Daily News revealed that in 2011 the former Democratic congressman and current mayoral candidate had paid almost $45,000 to private investigators to look into a supposed breach of his Twitter account, even though Weiner knew that he hadn't been hacked. The famously lewd photos had been tweeted by Weiner himself and would ultimately drive him to resign in disgrace from the House of Representatives.
Now, the question being asked is whether that expenditure was ethically legit.
The Federal Election Commission could probe whether the payment of $43,122 to T&M Protective Services from Weiner's campaign account followed the rules if a member of the public lodged a formal complaint, an FEC spokesman told HuffPost. The FEC is prohibited from revealing whether a person is currently under investigation.
There's certainly grounds to examine Weiner's spending, according to campaign finance experts, who say it's not clear as to whether the money was paid for legitimate political expenses or converted to serve an improper personal purpose.
"It's worth the FEC taking a look to find out if this was an illegal use of campaign funds or a permissible one," the Campaign Legal Center's Paul S. Ryan told HuffPost. "A determination cannot be made just by knowing whether he hired a private investigator."
Though T&M isn't a law firm, the Friends of Weiner committee listed the payments in September and December 2011 as "legal services" in reports filed with the FEC.
"That's what troubles me the most," said David Mason, a former FEC commissioner. "The use of the term of 'legal services' to potentially cover up a private investigation is most troubling."
Neither Weiner's campaign nor officials from T&M responded to HuffPost's repeated inquiries for an explanation of the transaction.
While campaigning at a Baptist church in Brooklyn on Sunday, Weiner denied the New York Daily News insinuation that he had used campaign contributions to pay for a pointless search for a hacker who did not exist.
"We paid for lawyers and investigators as part of the investigations that were going on. The [House] Ethics Committee had an investigation going on. There were press inquiries that were coming in. So the report in the Daily News is untrue," Weiner said, according to the Village Voice.
Just last week, the FEC revealed it had fined Weiner $20,000 in May for failing to refund donors after he withdrew from the 2012 election.
On July 15, Weiner's treasurer filed paperwork to officially shutter his congressional campaign account, which has only $99.75 on hand. But that closure could be delayed if the FEC launches a probe into the T&M payments or finds fault with any other campaign activity.
The FEC can seek stiff penalties against a politician who deliberately spends campaign contributions on personal expenses. Federal regulators sued former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) last year for using $217,000 of campaign funds to cover his defense when he was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. The FEC asked the court to order repayment of the money, plus a fine, plus its own expenses in the case.