Aides to Republican Tommy Thompson—the former Wisconsin governor, onetime Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner, and current candidate for the U.S. senate—said Monday that Thompson’s son, Jason, an attorney at Milwaukee-based Michael Best & Friedrich, “said something he should not have” when he remarked that voters should send President Barack Obama back to Kenya.
The controversial comment, which was caught on camera, came at a Sunday brunch held by the Kenosha County Republican Party in Wisconsin. At one point during the event, Jason Thompson tells potential voters that they “have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago—or Kenya.”
The remark, which Jason Thompson appears to make in jest, prompted one person in the crowd to respond that “we are taking donations for that Kenya trip,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
While President Obama was born in Hawaii—as his lawyers from Perkins Coie established last year by releasing his original birth certificate—certain fringe figures continue to insist that he was not born in the United States. Many of these so-called birthers cite the fact that the president’s father was born in Kenya as backing their unsubstantiated claim.
Reince Priebus, a Michael Best litigation and corporate partner on leave from the firm’s Milwaukee office while he serves as Republican National Committee chairman, also spoke at the Sunday brunch. (Priebus was elected chair of the RNC last year after serving as the organization’s general counsel.)
On Monday, after the website Buzzfeed posted video of Jason Thompson’s appearance at the Kenosha event, Tommy Thompson’s campaign issued a statement apologizing for the comments made by the candidate’s 38-year-old son, who served as vice president of development and planning at Mequon, Wisconsin–based Bulk Petroleum before joining Michael Best.
“The governor has addressed this with his son, just like any other father would do,” the campaign said in its statement. “Jason Thompson said something he should not have, and he apologizes.”
In a separate statement provided to The Am Law Daily, a Michael Best spokeswoman said that “over the weekend, one of our attorneys and the son of senatorial candidate Tommy Thompson made a regrettable comment at a campaign event for his father.”
The spokeswoman added: “We want to make it clear that the comment made at the campaign event in no way reflects the views, beliefs, or values of Michael Best & Friedrich. Jason has apologized for the comment through the campaign (and to his colleagues at the law firm) and the matter is being dealt with between father and son.”
Michael Best enjoys close ties with politically charged causes in Wisconsin, including a state supreme court justice caught up in a fierce redistricting fight, according to our previous reports. (Litigation partner Eric McLeod, who has been a key figure in that battle, resigned from Michael Best this summer to start his own firm.)
The elder Thompson, who served as governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001 before becoming U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services during President George W. Bush’s first term, joined Akin Gump as a partner in March 2005 after leaving public service.
He stepped down from the firm in January to embark on his current campaign, in which he is running against congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, an openly gay Democrat, for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl. Democrats have sought to make an issue of Thompson’s Akin Gump tenure amid the hard-fought race, launching attack ads accusing the ex-governor of being a high-paid lobbyist, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal. (Financial disclosure forms show Akin Gump paid $771,000 to Thompson for his services from January 2010 to October 2011.)
Thompson’s campaign announced this week that it had raised more than $2.2 million since the Republican primary in August, and had nearly $2 million in cash on hand for the final few weeks of its battle with Baldwin, whose own campaign had bested Thompson by the beginning of October with nearly $3.5 million in cash on hand, according to The Associated Press.
Among the high-profile attorneys offering Thompson their financial support: Baker & McKenzie global energy, mining, and infrastructure chair James O’Brien ($3,500), Cozen O’Connor partner, noted Republican adviser, and longtime Blank Rome chair David Girard-DiCarlo ($2,500), Foley & Lardner health care practice founding partner James Connelly ($2,500), Kirkland & Ellis M&A partner Stephen Fraidin ($1,000), Linklaters‘s U.S. restructuring head and banking practice cohead Martin Flics ($1,000), Ice Miller public affairs cochair John Hammond III ($1,000), and Pepsico’s once-again general counsel Larry Thompson ($1,000), according to Federal Election Commission filings.
FEC records also show that Winston & Strawn‘s political action committee donated $1,000 to Thompson, while lawyers and other employees associated with Michael Best collectively contributed another $27,350. Jason Thompson is one of two Michael Best attorneys to contribute $5,000 to Tommy Thompson’s campaign; the other being Raymond Taffora, chair of the firm’s government and regulatory law practice group. (Michael Best lawyers and staffers have also contributed $6,050 to Baldwin’s campaign.)
Akin Gump attorneys and staffers contributed another $22,000 to Thompson’s campaign coffers, according to the FEC, with consultant Lawrence Wiley ($4,000), health industry practice head Jorge Lopez Jr. ($2,500), and public policy partner Smith Davis ($2,500) leading the list of donors.
Akin Gump partner and chairman R. Bruce McLean also donated $1,000 to Thompson. On Monday the firm announced that the managing partner of its U.S. operations, New York litigator Kim Koopersmith, had been elected to succeed McLean as global chair of the firm, according to the NLJ.