Conservative lawyer who saved Madison Cawthorn from election challenge sues him for not paying bills

The freshman congressman owes nearly $200K to a legal firm that kept him on the primary ballot — which he lost

Published December 16, 2022 12:16PM (EST)

Madison Cawthorn speaks during former US President Donald Trump's rally in Selma, NC, on April 9, 2022. (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Madison Cawthorn speaks during former US President Donald Trump's rally in Selma, NC, on April 9, 2022. (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A law firm that helped keep Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., on the ballot during a legal challenge to his candidacy in the 2022 North Carolina Primary is now suing him for more than $193,000 in unpaid legal bills.

The Bopp Law Firm, based in Terre Haute, Indiana, filed a federal lawsuit on Dec. 1, accusing Cawthorn of breaching his contract and failing to pay his fees. The $193,296.85 bill does not include interest owed for late payments.

Cawthorn hired the legal team to represent him after opponents tried to keep him off the primary ballot due to his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Voters cited Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was supposed to prevent congressmen who fought in the Confederacy from returning to their position in Congress. They claimed that Cawthorn's participation in the "Stop the Steal" rally disqualified him from running for Congress again.

A federal judge ruled in Cawthorn's favor in March, preventing the North Carolina State Board of Election from keeping him off the ballot for the 2022 Primary in May. Voters then appealed the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, where they reversed the ruling and sent it back to the district court. 

Cawthorn's attorneys moved to have the district court case "dropped as moot" to prevent any ruling that could affect his future campaigns, according to the lawsuit.

James Bopp Jr., a representative for Bopp Law Firm, said in an interview that Cawthorn contacted him on Tuesday and "expressed a willingness to pay the fee and resolve the matter."

"Now that has not yet happened, but I'm hopeful that that would turn out to be the case," Bopp added.

While Cawthorn was able to stop the challenge to his candidacy, he did lose the primary to Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards due to various personal and political scandals in the leadup to his campaign.

In April, Cawthorn tried to bring a loaded gun through TSA at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Cawthorn admitted that the firearm was his, and cooperated with CMPD officers — ultimately, he was issued a citation for possession of a dangerous weapon on city property.

He was also issued various citations from the North Carolina Highway Patrol for speeding violations and driving with a revoked license.

Cawthorn also faced allegations of nepotism after giving $141,000 in campaign and taxpayer funds to his second cousin, Stephen Smith. However, the exchange of funds was deemed legal since Smith was a distant relative and not a first cousin. 

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The Bopp lawsuit is not Cawthorn's only financial challenge. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Ethics ordered him to pay more than $15,000 for his role in promoting a meme coin, in a "pump-and-dump" cryptocurrency scheme.

The committee said it found substantial evidence that Cawthorn violated rules against conflicts of interest when he promoted a cryptocurrency that he had a financial interest in, according to their report. 

Cawthorn spent $150,000 on the "Let's Go Brandon" coin in December 2021 (the name of the coin is a reference to a phrase that conservatives use to mock President Joe Biden). Cawthorn received 180 billion LGB Coin, with the favorable terms constituting an improper gift, according to the committee.

A day after Cawthorn publicly said he owned LGBCoin, the cryptocurrency announced that it would sponsor NASCAR driver Brandon Brown. Following the sponsorship news, LGBCoin's value spiked by 75%, according to reporting from the Washington Examiner.

Watchdog groups told the Examiner that Cawthorn may have had advance knowledge of the deal with Brown, warranting an investigation from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission "to see if the freshman congressman violated insider trading laws."

In January 2022, the value of LGBCoin dropped from $570 million to $0. After the committee's findings last December, Cawthorn was ordered to donate $14,237.49 to charity and pay off his late fees for cryptocurrency transactions that amounted to $1,000.

In August, Cawthorn's campaign announced that they were $300,000 in debt with money owed to a business associated with his spokesman Blake Harp, his campaign adviser and a top congressional staff member. The debt has reportedly been paid off.

By Samaa Khullar

Samaa Khullar is a former news fellow at Salon with a background in Middle Eastern history and politics. She is a graduate of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism institute and is pursuing investigative reporting.

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