Can Corrine Brown run for Congress again? Attorneys explain how she qualifies

Former Mayor John Delaney says Brown was talking about a comeback when she was in prison for fraud

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who was convicted of a federal tax charge in a charity fraud case, has announced that she wants to return to the U.S. House.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who was convicted of a federal tax charge in a charity fraud case, has announced that she wants to return to the U.S. House.

Brown filed papers Thursday to run in Florida’s 10th District, which is an open seat because incumbent Democrat Val Demings is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“People wanted me to come back. They wanted their voice back,” Brown told a reporter with the Tallahassee Democrat.

RELATED: Convicted felon Corrine Brown running for Congress again | News release announcing Corrine Brown’s candidacy for Florida’s 10th Congressional District

Brown, a Democrat, served 12 terms in the House beginning in 1993 but was defeated for reelection after her 2016 indictment in the fraud case. She was initially convicted and served two years in prison but was released on humanitarian grounds due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal. Last month, to avoid a second trial, Brown pleaded guilty to a single tax charge and was put on probation. The Constitution does not outright bar convicted felons from serving, but it’s up to the House or Senate to decide whom to seat.

“The U.S. Constitution establishes the exclusive qualifications for congress,” explained government law attorney Chris Hand.

Those three qualifications are: You have to be 25 years or older, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years and live in the state where you are elected. Brown checks all those boxes.

“If you meet those requirements, you are eligible to serve in the United States Congress, according to the Constitution, and that has been reiterated by the United States Supreme Court on several occasions,” Hand said.

Notably, a line in Brown’s plea deal states:

“The defendant also understands that the defendant will be adjudicated guilty of the offenses to which the defendant has pleaded and, if any of Defendant’s such offenses are felonies, may thereby be deprived of certain rights, such as the right to vote, to hold public office, to serve on a jury, or to have possession of firearms.”

It’s the word “may” that makes things tricky. We brought it up to attorney Curtis Fallgatter, a former federal prosecutor.

“It appears under the federal law there’s no prohibition for a convicted felon to run for federal office,” Fallgatter agreed.

When asked if it does seem like Brown can run for Congress again, “That’s my understanding,” Falgatter replied. “She has had a good lawyer research that and has given her a sound opinion that she can run for Congress.”

Former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney, an ally of Brown, said he wasn’t surprised to learn Brown would run for office again.

“I’ve known her a long time. I visited her when she was in prison and she was in office when I was mayor in Jacksonville. And even in prison she was talking about a comeback,” Delaney said.

Brown was in Tallahassee filing the paperwork to run. Hand pointed out that based on the qualifications mentioned in the Constitution, Brown doesn’t have to live in the area she plans on representing — just the state of Florida.

Brown said she’s optimistic about running in the 10th District, newly redrawn in the redistricting process following the 2020 census.

“I’ve represented most of the people of the new 10th District during my 24 years in Congress and I always earned huge support in this region,” Brown said in a statement on her website. “Now I see our hard-won gains are being taken away from us. Minorities have lost opportunities to elect candidates of their choice because of the recent gerrymandering in the State of Florida.”

Brown faces a crowded field in the Aug. 23 Democratic primary for the new open House seat.

In the criminal case, court documents accused Brown of siphoning money from her One Door for Education Foundation for personal use. Prosecutors said the fraud included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the foundation to pay for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions.

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.