Gaetz's fundraising dips as sex trafficking investigation intensifies

Financial disclosures also show his campaign's legal bills rising significantly.

February 02, 2022, 4:00 AM

As the federal investigation into possible sex trafficking allegations against Rep. Matt Gaetz continues, his campaign's fundraising has been dwindling.

In its latest campaign finance disclosure filed on Monday, the Gaetz campaign reported raising $534,000 in the final three months of last year -- a major drop from the $1.8 million he raised in the first three months of the year, fresh off the 2020 election.

Overall, Gaetz's fundraising has been gradually slowing down, dropping to $1.4 million in the second quarter and then to $527,000 in the third quarter.

A dip in fundraising between election years isn't uncommon, and some of Gaetz's GOP colleagues, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, saw a similar slowdown in fundraising from their earlier hauls. A joint fundraising operation between Gaetz and Greene also reported bringing in only $19,000 in the final quarter of 2021, compared to the nearly $360,000 it raised in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, as the sex trafficking investigation unfolded over the past year, disclosure records show that the Gaetz campaign's legal bills rose significantly.

In total, from July 2020 through the end of December 2021, the Gaetz campaign reported spending nearly $200,000 on legal bills, minus $25,000 that was returned by a firm named Zuckerman Spaeder LLP two months after the Gaetz campaign paid that amount to the firm.

In the first few months of 2021, as news of the investigation into Gaetz and his associates emerged, the campaign also spent more than $800,000 on strategic consulting by PR firm Logan Circle Group -- but the campaign's payments to the firm dropped to under $3,000 in the final three months of 2021.

The latest financial disclosure filing also shows the Gaetz campaign has continued to pay the office of New York criminal defense attorney Marc Fernich, who lists on his website "notable clients" that include convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Among Fernich's other clients are Mexican drug lord El Chapo, former mobster John "Junior" Gotti, and "alleged propagandist in Nazi Hungary" Ferenc Koreh, according to his firm’s website.

PHOTO: Rep. Matt Gaetz listens during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill, June 10, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Matt Gaetz listens during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill, June 10, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images, FILE

The Gaetz campaign made a $50,000 payment to Fernich's firm in October, according to the latest filing -- its second payment to the firm after a payment of $25,000 in June of last year.

As his fundraising slowed down last year, Gaetz's campaign spending also dropped significantly, with disclosures showing most of his money going to direct mail messaging and fundraising.

"I'm the only Republican in Congress who doesn't take lobbyist or PAC money. I rely exclusively on donations that average around $38," Gaetz said in a statement to ABC News. "HBO made a movie about it called The Swamp."

The financial disclosures come as the federal probe into possible sex trafficking allegations against Gaetz continues.

Earlier this month Gaetz's ex-girlfriend, a one-time Capitol Hill staffer, testified in front of a federal grand jury that's hearing evidence in the investigation, according to multiple sources. The ex-girlfriend, who ABC News is not naming, was one of the women allegedly on a 2018 trip to the Bahamas with Gaetz and others that prosecutors are investigating.

Sources familiar with the grand jury proceedings said the woman provided information regarding a phone call that prosecutors say occurred between her, Gaetz, and another woman who is also a witness in the sex-crimes probe and who met the congressman through his one-time friend, former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg.

A week after Gaetz's ex-girlfriend testified in front of the grand jury, Joe Ellicott, a close friend of Greenberg -- who himself pled guilty last year to multiple charges including sex trafficking a minor -- also agreed to plead guilty to fraud and drug charges. Ellicott, like Greenberg, allegedly attended multiple gatherings that involved drugs and young women who were paid for sex, sources told ABC News.

Ellicott also allegedly knows the one-time minor at the center of the sex trafficking investigation into Gaetz, as well as another woman who is involved, sources said. ABC News previously reported that in a private text exchange over the encrypted messaging app Signal, Ellicott allegedly told Greenberg in August 2020 that a mutual friend was worried she could be implicated in the investigation into the sex ring involving a minor.

The attorney for Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend, Tim Jansen, declined to comment when reached by ABC News.

The latest developments come after Greenberg, as part of a plea deal, had been steadily providing prosecutors with information that allegedly included years of Venmo and Cash App transactions and thousands of photos and videos, as well as access to personal social media accounts, ABC News previously reported.

Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes. In a statement to ABC News responding to Ellicott's guilty plea agreement, Gaetz's chief of staff Jillian Lane Wyant, said, "After nearly a year of false rumors, not a shred of evidence has implicated Congressman Gaetz in wrongdoing. We remain focused on our work representing Floridians."

Ellicott's guilty plea hearing is set for Feb. 9, while Greenberg's sentencing is slated for the end of March after being pushed back multiple times amid the ongoing investigation.

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