X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Larry Norton’s life changed dramatically this spring. His first child, a daughter, was born. At almost the same time, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was signed into law. “We were driving home with her from the hospital, when I heard that President Bush had signed the new legislation,” Norton says. He recalls turning to his daughter that day in late March and thinking, “Let me get a good look at you,” realizing he would not see her much from then on. Norton is the 44-year-old general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, a longtime government lawyer, well-liked and respected by colleagues, and known for a low-key style. But he has stepped into one of the most public and contentious slots for a government lawyer — at an agency not only responsible for implementing the most sweeping changes to the laws on the financing of political campaigns but also now being threatened with extermination by some members of Congress. It would be a daunting task for any lawyer, much less one who has occupied his current position for barely 10 months. And he must do his work in an atmosphere where impassioned criticism radiates from the editorial pages of the nation’s most influential newspapers, from politicians on both the left and the right, and from almost every manner of interest group known to Washington. “The challenge that he confronts is probably the greatest since our original general counsel,” says Commissioner Karl Sandstrom. Along with the 66 lawyers in his office, Norton is essentially the architect of the regulations used to enforce the new campaign finance law. The politically appointed commissioners work from Norton’s foundation, and can vote to adopt the rules, change them slightly, or rewrite them completely. Once the commission has adopted the rules, Norton’s team must enforce them. The office also handles all of the agency’s litigation. Norton and his staff must draft seven sets of rules governing various aspects of the new campaign finance law — from the regulation of soft money to how extensively candidates and parties may coordinate their spending. And the work must be completed before the end of the year to meet congressionally mandated deadlines. The general counsel, along with the Department of Justice, is also responsible for fighting the numerous constitutional legal challenges filed against the law. Already, Norton’s office and the commission have completed one set of rules. In the span of a month, his office drafted a proposed rule, and put it out for public comment. Norton and the commission sat through two days of public hearings on that proposal. Less than two weeks later, in an almost Herculean effort, the general counsel’s office put out several hundred more pages of regulations. The commission and general counsel then hammered out a final rule over three days of public meetings. More activity at that pace looms — as does a whirlwind of certain criticism. “Larry Norton is in a very high-profile position with a lot of pressure on him,” says Larry Noble, the previous general counsel. Norton, himself, simply says, “It’s going to be a long, hot summer.” —————————————- “Weak by design, hobbled by congressional interference, slow and captive to the community it regulates, the FEC is an agency that cannot reasonably be expected to enforce and defend campaign finance laws.”Washington Post editorial May 18, 2002 —————————————– Norton smiles easily and often when talking about his 3-month-old, Kelsey; about his wife, Heather McDowell, who practices law at Venable; and his passion for his hometown Baltimore Orioles. When reflecting on his career, he is most animated when talking about some of the law-enforcement-style “busts” he worked on. Like the time he attended the shutdown of a fraudulent telemarketing operation when he was a lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission. “The phones are ringing and, you know, there are people calling who are about to be ripped off,” says Norton. “And the cigarettes are still burning in the ashtrays, and everybody has cleared out. You feel like you are doing good work. It’s a little bit of cops and robbers stuff. It’s as close as I will ever get to that gratification.” It was the desire for that kind of professional satisfaction that initially led Norton to the public sector. A graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, Norton first worked in Venable’s Baltimore office. After four years, he took a job in the Civil Litigation Division of the office of the Maryland attorney general, also in Baltimore. Norton quickly established himself as a promising attorney, exhibiting a style described by former colleagues as thorough, deliberate, and calming. “Larry was clearly a star in our office,” says Carmen Shepard, now deputy attorney general for Maryland. “He lowered the level of what had been a very emotional and contentious proceeding by the calmness of his approach and his ability to listen to everyone,” she says of his work on a high-profile case involving allegations of abuse at a day care center. After five years, Norton made the move to the District and the federal government. He worked first in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection for three years, and was then an associate director in the Enforcement Division of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission beginning in 1996. “He is really cherished by the people who work for him,” says Daniel Salsburg, an attorney who worked for Norton at the FTC and the CFTC. At both agencies, Norton handled a range of cases — consumer fraud, presale disclosures, market manipulations. At the CFTC, he worked on the high-profile Sumitomo case, which involved manipulation of the global copper market. The agency eventually got a $125 million settlement in the case, its largest civil money penalty. Daniel Nathan, the CFTC’s deputy director of enforcement, remembers Norton’s creative work in shutting down boiler-room-style trading operations. “What he did” says Nathan, “was perfect ways of developing evidence on the sly and getting it into court quickly and suing so we could use our power to shut down the firm and freeze their assets immediately.” After 14 years in government service, Norton was ready to move to a top slot. In December 2000, Larry Noble, then-FEC general counsel, left the agency. —————————————- “End Legalized Bribery” — A sign held by many at a rally for Granny D, a grandmother who walked across the country to rally support for campaign finance reform Feb. 29, 2000 —————————————- In August 2001, the FEC announced it had hired Larry Norton. Norton was the first general counsel hired from outside the agency, which opened its doors in 1975. And he was taking over from a man who had run the office for 13 years. Larry Noble had worked his way up through the agency to serve as its fourth general counsel. He was a consistent advocate of reading the law broadly and enforcing it toughly. He was vocal, and not afraid of disagreeing, sometimes strongly and publicly, with commissioners. “My view is that you put your recommendation up, and you argue for it,” he says. “There were times that commissioners were not happy with me for doing that.” That view of his role made Noble a lightening rod. The reform community admired him. “Larry Noble did a very good job of trying to implement and enforce the law,” says Don Simon, general counsel for Common Cause, the major force behind campaign finance reform. “His problem came when the commissioners refused to follow his recommendations. In almost every case where the commissioners turned badly off course, they did so over the objections of Larry Noble.” But to his critics, Noble was an unappointed seventh commissioner, extending his authority beyond that of a general counsel’s traditional reach. It’s a sensitive issue at the FEC, whose commissioners, by statute, are divided 3-3 along party lines. Noble was so disliked that Republican congressional opponents a few years ago unsuccessfully tried to pass a law to limit the general counsel’s term — a thinly disguised attempt to oust Noble. “He had an agenda, an ideological point of view,” says Cleta Mitchell, a campaign finance lawyer and partner at Foley & Lardner who represents the National Rifle Association in its legal challenge of the campaign finance reform law. “Clearly, the job he is in now reflects where he should have been for many years.” Noble is now executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a public interest group that works on collecting and publicizing information on campaign fund raising. Noble also recently testified in favor of a tough reading of the law at the FEC’s first rulemaking on implementing the new campaign finance law. Sitting on the dais, listening to his testimony, was his replacement, Larry Norton. —————————————- “I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will use the flaming letter of the Constitution to strike down this bill.” — Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, in a speech on the Senate floor March 20, 2002 —————————————- Norton self-deprecatingly jokes about being Larry II. And although Norton says he doesn’t sit around comparing himself with his predecessor, his tenure will be viewed by agency observers through the lens of that comparison. “Larry was here a long time. He put his stamp on the office, and I think very highly of him,” says Norton of his predecessor. But praise does not preclude change. “From what I understand, I think we are different people with very different styles.” Norton has already changed aspects of the office’s management and structure. Three of the office’s four assistant general counsel — those heading enforcement, policy, public finance, and ethics — have departed in the past year. So far, he has filled one of the slots — enforcement. He chose to promote a lawyer from within. Norton has also decided to resurrect the deputy general counsel position. The post has not existed since Noble was promoted from that position to general counsel and subsequently eliminated it. Norton’s new deputy, James Kahl, is a veteran of the Office of Special Counsel, the Small Business Administration, and private practice. He started last week. And there are other small differences, such as changing the policy on who signs briefs and other legal documents. Previously they bore only the general counsel’s mark. Now Norton is asking all the lawyers who work on a document to sign their name to it. But the new law is also dampening much significant change. Norton says he doesn’t want to burden the staff with too many structural and procedural overhauls while they’re in the midst of implementing and defending the new law. “I will put my stamp on [the office],” says Norton. “But not quite in the way I thought I would when I started the job in September.” —————————————- “We will not be thwarted by an unelected group of bureaucrats.” — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on his intention to overturn the election regulations and eliminate the agency June 26, 2002 —————————————- The area where Norton may have the biggest impact is on the style and approach of the office. “I am interested in changing the dynamic between the Office of General Counsel and the commission,” says Norton. “I think it became too antagonistic.” Noble was known as a fighter. Norton brings a different reputation. “He approached things in a very low-key, calm, deliberative manner that I found very useful in the kind of job we were doing,” says Geoffrey Aronow, who hired him at the CFTC. Aronow is now a partner at Arnold & Porter. “You have a lot of often emotional and very highly charged issues. I think it’s helpful when you have the ability to come to those things and not add to the level of tension and anxiety.” Already observers are noting a certain change in the atmosphere. “I think the difference at this point is that [the general counsel and the commissioners] are disagreeing in an agreeable way,” says Kenneth Gross, an election lawyer at New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “Sometimes in the past, even their agreements were disagreeable.” But a low-key approach is not viewed as a positive development in all circles. Reform groups do not like the current majority view on the commission. In the past, they liked how Noble as general counsel pushed a tougher reading of the law. They worry that Norton may not have that same force. “Sometimes, I thought Norton tried to hold his position. And at other times, I thought he was a bit passive,” says Common Cause’s Simon, evaluating the general counsel’s performance at a recent public meeting. The FEC general counsel is a unique government lawyer slot. Rules and regulations are drafted very much in the open. The agency exposes a significant portion of its discussion phases to public view. So disagreements between commissioners and the agency staff are likewise made very public. “I am not aware of another agency where the commission actually in a public way takes issue with their own general counsel, sometimes in a very critical manner,” says Norton. “It’s difficult to be placed in a position of publicly disagreeing with your own client.” And all of the rulemakings Norton is responsible for this year will define his role and his relationship with the commission. He has already cut a quieter, more circumspect figure than the man he replaced. For Norton, the rest of this year will be a test of whether he can fulfill the role he is setting out for himself. “I think sometimes less can be more,” Norton says. “I think when you talk a little less, when you jump into a few less scrapes, I think people may listen to you a little bit more than they would if you were always talking.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.