MAGA Shit Fight May Land Marjorie Taylor Greene in Legal Hot Water

MAGA Shit Fight May Land Marjorie Taylor Greene in Legal Hot Water 1

Two MAGA world luminaries who have spent the better part of a year promoting some of the same election conspiracy theories—Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and QAnon-aligned lawyer Lin Wood—are now pitted against each other in a dispute that could put Greene on the wrong side of a campaign finance violation.

Wood, the Georgia defamation lawyer who has floated some of the fringiest of fringe theories about ex-President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss, posted a note on the Telegram messaging app over the weekend blasting Greene and claiming she still owed him for previous legal work.

But it turns out that Wood was not representing his former ally in her personal capacity. Instead, his services went to Greene’s campaign committee as it fought two defamation disputes. Worse still for Greene is Wood’s claim that the Greene campaign has never paid him, raising a number of questions about the legality of their arrangement.

A spokesperson for Greene, who handles communications for her congressional office and her campaign, did not offer comment.

Four campaign finance experts consulted for this article said Greene’s candidate committee—Greene for Congress—appears at minimum to have violated federal financial reporting laws. They also raised concerns about illegal corporate and in-kind contributions, with some experts pointing to two possibilities in other legal realms: breach of contract, and, in a word, “theft,” if Wood were to take an austere line in state court.

Wood seems to have ruled out that option, but in a conversation with The Daily Beast, the veteran attorney claimed that Greene owes him $5,000 for legal services rendered in July and September 2020.

“I have not been remunerated as of today,” Wood said, noting he billed for last summer’s services in one $5,000 swoop, which he pegs at sometime in late September.

The cases, he confirmed, were two defamation disputes that, according to documents The Daily Beast reviewed, were specific to the Greene campaign.

One was a retraction demand Greene for Congress issued on July 8, 2020, to a GOP primary challenger over an ad Greene claimed was false. The second was a lawsuit filed against the campaign last August in Fulton County, GA, alleging the Greene campaign had conspired to defame an Atlanta-area mortgage company after it fired an employee under a politically charged cloud.

A worse interpretation for Greene would be that the campaign accepted an illegal corporate contribution. But at the end of the day, a campaign can’t have someone do this kind of legal work without it being disclosed.

Brett Kappel, campaign finance specialist at Harmon Curran

While federal election law allows attorneys to volunteer their services in certain instances, defamation cases are not covered, explained Brett Kappel, campaign finance specialist at Harmon Curran.

“If he sent an invoice for legal services, this wouldn’t fit under the category of legal services lawyers can provide for free. So the Federal Election Commission would say that these costs must be reflected on her reports,” Kappel said. “It could be what’s called a ‘disputed debt,’ but you still have to report that, along with who did the work and what it was for.”

“A worse interpretation for Greene would be that the campaign accepted an illegal corporate contribution,” he added. “But at the end of the day, a campaign can’t have someone do this kind of legal work without it being disclosed.”

Stuart McPhail, senior litigation counsel at government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, agreed that the supposed unpaid debt “should also be reported on the campaign’s disclosures,” and McPhail pointed out that unresolved sum could prevent the committee from terminating.

McPhail added that Wood himself would appear to have legal recourse under contract law.

“Attorney fees are a matter of contract between the lawyer and the client,” he said. “So if the campaign failed to pay [Wood’s] fees, and his retainer specified he was to be paid fees, then he could sue the campaign for breach of contract.”

Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at the campaign finance watchdog group Common Cause, agreed that the outstanding invoice could be considered an unreported debt. But he also offered a more pointed analysis.

“Sounds as though Marjorie Taylor Greene has received and failed to report an illegal contribution,” Ryan said.

In the campaign finance world, a “contribution” is not just money—it’s anything of value for the purpose of influencing an election. Goods and services, such as legal work, are considered “in-kind contributions,” and campaigns must either report receiving them or pay for them outright.

In this case, Ryan observed, it appears neither of those things happened.

“This could have gone a different way: A lawyer provides services, invoices the candidate for those services, and then the candidate pays for them,” Ryan said. “But it didn’t go that way here, and what we see is unpaid legal services that amount to an illegal contribution.”

Ryan added that the bottom line was that, “if a candidate pays, it’s fine; if not, it’s an in-kind contribution.”

If you look outside of campaign finance law, it’s possible that a state statute could be invoked here. If you don’t pay your bills, that’s theft.

Brett Kappel, campaign finance specialist at Harmon Curran

Part of the problem in this case is that Wood had already donated the maximum allowable amount to Greene before he billed her, so she would not be allowed to accept his in-kind services for free. The in-kind contribution would therefore be illegal, the campaign finance experts said. And, as Ryan and Kappel both pointed out, because Wood’s law firm is not a partnership, such a contribution would appear to qualify as a corporate gift to the candidate, which is also impermissible.

Asked about his rates, Wood told The Daily Beast he thought the $5,000 bill was “fair and reasonable” and “less than if I had charged hourly.”

“Like I said, it was not about money for me. I tried to help her. I thought she would help America,” he said.

The financial dispute is just the latest in a series of recent off-screen clashes between the two icons of the MAGA right, whose once-tight friendship turned vicious a few months ago after Greene replaced him on a defamation case and Wood began criticizing the congresswoman for not doing enough to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“I was involved, but I then was replaced,” Wood said, referencing the lawsuit filed last August in Fulton County. “And I remember—I think it was at an event I was at with the Republican Women’s Club of Myrtle Beach in May—but she called during the event, and I held up the phone and they all applauded. But I think that’s when she was going to tell me she was gonna replace me. Then someone else of hers eventually called and told me not long after that. She didn’t call.”

After that, Wood quickly hit back. He accused Greene of selling out, claimed she was in league with “communists” and implied not so subtly that she no longer held his faith or trust.

“It was all in response to me telling her to keep challenging the election, which she was not doing. She resorted to personal attacks and that disappointed me and that’s how it goes. When people can’t attack the message they attack the messenger, because the message is true,” Wood told The Daily Beast. “And I know that if I’m doing god’s work, the devil is gonna attack me.”

Wood added that he didn’t think Greene and he were “ideologically on the same page anymore,” once again lumping the far-right Trump loyalist in with “communists.”

“There was a communist effort to steal our presidency, and if someone isn’t fighting to investigate it—not that you have to believe it but just to investigate it—then that tells me that you’re a communist sympathizer,” he said.

Still, Wood said he does not intend to claw back his money, which may be a tall order if pursued through the FEC, according to Daniel Weiner, deputy director of election reform at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“This is actually a pretty common issue. Unfortunately for Mr. Wood, there isn’t much recourse to federal law when it comes to unpaid campaign debts,” Weiner said. In this respect, he added, Wood finds himself in the same boat as other service providers and even cities, who “often have to wait years to be reimbursed for costs after presidential candidates visit.” (The city of Albuquerque referred one unpaid Trump campaign bill to a collection agency.)

“Any legal remedy would need to be found under state law—maybe small claims court,” Weiner added. “I’ll resist the temptation to deploy a Kraken metaphor.”

Kappel concurred on that point.

“If you look outside of campaign finance law, it’s possible that a state statute could be invoked here. If you don’t pay your bills, that’s theft,” he said.

Wood said that, in his 45-year career, “I have had very few clients who tried to ‘stiff me,’” claiming that he has never sued a client over an unpaid bill.

“I think publicly litigating with former clients over fees demeans the legal profession,” Wood said.

Still, it’s not clear whether that $5,000 is even a full accounting of Greene’s debt. After all, the defamation case carried on through the spring, months after Wood’s September invoice.

Asked if he had continued to act as counsel to the campaign in the matter, Wood demurred.

“I do not believe I performed any additional work after September other than a few phone calls,” he said.