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When Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal hired Elliott Portnoy two years ago to build its new federal lobbying practice, one of his first tasks was to get the firm’s attorneys to give more money to its political action committee. A flush PAC, Portnoy believed, would make lawmakers take Sonnenschein’s lobbying efforts more seriously. In order to get his colleagues to open up their wallets � especially those outside Washington, D.C., who weren’t familiar with Capitol Hill’s fund-raising practices � Portnoy made a simple yet dramatic presentation at Sonnenschein’s 2003 partner meeting. He played a recording of four telephone messages that he had received from members of Congress requesting campaign donations. The messages (shared with the lawmakers’ permission) demonstrated just how aggressively elected officials are seeking hard dollars from lobbyists. Portnoy’s presentation had the intended effect. In 2002 his colleagues gave $27,635 to the firm’s PAC; in 2003 they kicked in $212,953, making Sonnenschein’s committee the fourth-largest among law firms with D.C. offices. Since the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which eliminated “soft money” contributions to political parties, the importance of “hard dollar” contributions to candidates and campaign committees has increased. And, lobbyists say, that’s spurred the growth of law firm PACs. A PAC is a useful way for a firm to manage its attorneys’ donations, encourage contributions from lawyers outside the Beltway, and raise its profile on Capitol Hill. Not everyone has a PAC. In fact, two of D.C.’s biggest firms � Patton Boggs and Covington & Burling � rely instead on individual lawyers making donations on their own. Most lobbying boutiques are also sitting out the PAC game, often because they’re too small to collect the volume of checks necessary to make it worthwhile. But overall, law firm PACs have grown considerably. Wesley Bizzell, an election law attorney at Winston & Strawn, explains that it’s not just candidates’ money demands that have led firms to expand their PACs. Politically savvy corporations are also expecting more fund-raising power from their D.C. representatives, he says. “A lot of corporations that hire law firms . . . [for] federal relations expect to see a vibrant political action committee,” Bizzell explains. “It’s becoming part of the vetting process.” Creating a strong PAC isn’t easy, however. According to Richard Gold, who heads the public policy group at Holland & Knight, establishing a robust PAC is “the hardest part of building a strong federal public policy practice.” Lobbying members of Congress, he says, “pales in comparison to having to ask your partners to contribute their hard-earned money.” PACs come in various forms and are subject to a host of limits and regulations. Law firms generally form either corporate PACs or nonconnected PACs. Corporate PACs can collect funds only from people affiliated with the firm, while nonconnected committees can solicit contributions from anyone who is legally permitted to contribute to federal candidates [ "Office Politics," March,]. Both types of PACs can give to national, state, and local campaign committees, as well as to PACs operated by congressional candidates and Capitol Hill leaders. Contributions are subject to a range of spending limits. Every law firm has its own system for managing PAC contributions and building support among its members. Craig Engle, a counsel at Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn who manages the firm’s PAC, says he focuses on recruiting first-time donors, including associates. And when Arent Fox gets hit up for money from congressional candidates, it refers to a set of parameters drawn up by Engle and the firm’s partners. Requests that meet these standards are always approved. Sonnenschein has changed the oversight structure of its PAC to include more attorneys, especially those outside D.C. The reason, Portnoy says, was “to ensure that our partners in San Francisco or Kansas City or Chicago or New York see the PAC not simply as a tool for the public policy practice, but as a valuable tool for the whole firm and all the firm’s clients.” And at Holland & Knight, partners Tillie Fowler and Janet Studley chair a committee of eight to ten of the firm’s attorneys from around the country, who meet every two to four months to consider political contribution requests. No matter how their firm runs its PAC, Washington lawyers agree that the fund-raising demand from politicians is higher than ever. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s ever said they have enough money for their PAC,” says Frank Donatelli, a partner at McGuireWoods who comanages the firm’s PAC. “There’s always a greater demand than supply.” John Merrigan, the treasurer of Piper Rudnick’s PAC, agrees that PACs make firms popular when candidates start hunting for dollars. “They haven’t lost our phone number, I’ll tell you that.”

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