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George Bush and John Kerry may be running neck and neck among the nation’s voters, but general counsel have a clear favorite in this year’s presidential contest. Among the 50 best-paid GCs in the country, 22 have contributed money directly to Bush’s reelection effort during the 2004 election cycle. Only four members of this elite group have written a check for Kerry. (Two GCs covered their bets and gave to both.) Still, Democrats have some cause for optimism in the overall contest for general counsel dollars. Compared to 2000, the party has boosted its share of total GC donations made to all federal candidates and political party committees. But then, both parties have significantly increased their take from in-house lawyers since 2000. The current 50 best-paid general counsel have contributed 26 percent more in “hard money” this election season than the top 50 GCs of 2000. These are some of the findings from Recorder affiliate Corporate Counsel’s review of Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research group. CPR defines the start of the 2004 election cycle as June 1, 2003. At press time only contributions through July 5, 2004, had been posted. Our review looked at donations made by the 50 highest-ranking GCs on Corporate Counsel’s annual compensation survey. Bush has received $43,000 from this group; Kerry, $6,000. Among the general counsel backing the president, 21 gave $2,000 each, the maximum individual donation permitted under federal law. Only two contributed the same amount to Kerry-Stephen Lambright of Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. and Thomas Gottschalk of General Motors Corp. (Gottschalk and Lambright also contributed $2,000 to Bush.) Because Bush and Kerry agreed to use public financing for the general election campaign, both stopped accepting individual donations after their party’s nominating convention. During the Democratic primary campaign, failed candidates Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark and John Edwards took in a total of $9,500 from the top 50 GCs. Though Bush has an overwhelming edge among in-house lawyers this year, he ran a tighter race in the last presidential election. The 50 highest-ranking GCs in Corporate Counsel’s 2000 compensation survey gave $20,500 to Bush and his Republican rivals, while Al Gore and his Democratic challengers netted $16,500. While the GOP has a huge financial edge in the 2004 presidential race, Democrats are picking up a higher percentage of GC dollars when other contests and contributions are considered. So far this year, the 50 highest-paid general counsel have given $213,013 to federal candidates and political party committees, split 55-45 percent in favor of Republicans. Four years ago, the GOP took a larger share of a smaller pot, getting 64 percent of $168,128. Why are GCs giving more this year? “People know that general counsel make a lot of money,” says William Canfield, an election attorney at Williams & Jensen, a D.C.-based law and lobbying firm. “My sense is that general counsel are being hit up more often for donations.” A former general counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Canfield adds that Democrats are more actively seeking support among corporate executives. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 may be contributing to the rise in GC donations too. Also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, the law closed the loopholes that allowed unlimited “soft money” contributions to political party organizations. The political action committees at companies and trade associations have been particularly affected, since they were the largest sources of soft money. And because PACs are giving less, they’re receiving smaller contributions from GCs. Among the 50 best-paid general counsel, the average contribution to PACs dropped from $5,485 in 2000 to $4,713 this year. Instead, GCs — like all donors — are making more direct campaign contributions. “Both candidates and parties are aggressively seeking personal contributions from senior corporate executives, including general counsel,” says Brett Kappel, an election lawyer at Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy in D.C. “Hard money is king.” How do general counsel decide whom to support? “GCs are no different than anyone else,” says Frank Fernandez, the chief legal officer at The Home Depot Inc. “They look to the respective candidate’s platform, experience and track record. They weigh that in light of their personal experiences, and then support the candidate that they believe will be the best representative and leader.” Fernandez gave the maximum legal contribution of $2,000 to Bush and another $15,000 to the Republican National Committee. (Individuals can give up to $25,000 to any one political party committee, and up to $57,500 to a party’s various committees combined.) A comparison of contributions made by GCs and company PACs shows that many general counsel aren’t just standing out in their giving — they’re standing apart. Some GCs and PACs donate equally or near-equally to each party, but most have a clear favorite. Among the 50 best-paid general counsel, 20 gave most of their donations to the same party favored by their company’s PAC; 16 split with their employer. General Motors’ Thomas Gottschalk is one GC who differs from his company’s PAC. The GM committee has donated $232,500 to Republicans and $107,070 to Democrats in the 2004 election cycle. Gottschalk? He donated $17,000 to Democrats and only $3,000 to Republicans. “My political contributions reflect a variety of motivations, ranging from personal political philosophy, congruence with company policy concerns, past responsiveness on issues, admiration for the individual, or friendship with the person hosting a fund-raising event,” Gottschalk says. “Sometimes, it has more to do with the person making the ‘ask’ than allegiance to the candidate.” Gottschalk also contributed to Bush’s reelection campaign, as well as to that of Charlie Rangel, the very liberal Democratic congressman from Harlem. Asked about the wide range of candidates that he supports, Gottschalk laughed and warned against reading too much into his donations. Anybody who does, he says, would “probably think I was devoid of reason or a chameleon.” Eriq Gardner is a reporter with Corporate Counsel magazine, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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