Lawyers and law firms have played a leading role in the attention-grabbing narrative that is the fundraising race for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, one that pits Republican incumbent and former Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Ted Cruz against Democratic challenger Rep. Francis “Beto” O’Rourke.
This week, in advance of a July 15 reporting deadline set by the Federal Election Commission, the two candidates’ campaigns reported fundraising totals for the past three months.
O’Rourke, the son of a late Texas county judge, has historically has received more of his campaign’s money from lawyers and law firms than any other sources, according to data analyzed by the OpenSecrets website run by the Center for Responsive Politics. In outpacing Cruz, a longtime litigator from the Lone Star State, O’Rourke has reportedly raised more than $10.4 million during the past three months.
According to OpenSecrets, the law firms whose employees and nonworking spouses of those employees ranked as a group among O’Rourke’s largest contributors include: a trio of Dallas-based firms in the Rudner Law Offices, Fears Nachawati Law Firm and Waters Kraus & Paul; Houston’s Susman Godfrey; and the national plaintiffs-oriented Nix, Patterson & Roach, which has four offices throughout Texas.
With its data, OpenSecrets lumps together individual contributions that are limited by the FEC’s rules to $2,700 total per person per election cycle—or $5,400 for a candidate’s primary and general balloting bids.
For Neal Manne, a co-managing partner at Susman Godfrey, that presents an inaccurately skewed picture.
“We do not have a [political action committee] and we do not make campaign contributions as a law firm in nonjudicial races like the U.S. Senate race. What individual partners do or don’t do is up to them, but we have made no contributions as a law firm to O’Rourke, Cruz or anyone else,” wrote Manne in an email. “When individuals donate, FEC rules require them to identify where they work. But Susman Godfrey itself hasn’t given money and has no position as a firm in this race.“
Similarly, Peter Kraus, a founding and managing partner of Waters Kraus, wrote in an email that the firm’s employee contributions are “an example of purely coincidental shared sympathies.” Kraus added: “The firm takes no position with respect to its employees’ or partners’ political giving and any participation in the political process by any such individual is purely voluntary.”
For his part, O’Rourke has shunned PAC money and highlighted the small size of his average campaign donation. According to the Texas Tribune, O’Rourke highlighted a big increase his campaign coffers saw in the number of individual contributions—from roughly 141,000 in the first quarter to 215,714 during the second quarter. His campaign reported that about 70 percent of O’Rourke’s donations are continuing to come from Texas, and the candidate said in a Facebook broadcast that the average contribution was $33.
The Cruz campaign, which an OpenSecrets analysis shows gets more of its money from retirees than any other source, took in $4.6 million during the most recent campaign period. The law firms whose employees and nonworking spouses donated the most to Cruz as a group include: Sullivan & Cromwell; Greenberg Traurig; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and Morgan Lewis. Cruz was a Morgan Lewis partner from 2008 until 2013, when he was elected to the Senate, a prelude to his eventually unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. presidency.
None of those four Am Law 100 firms identified by OpenSecrets as being behind some of Cruz’s top donors responded to inquiries for this story.
Those law firms’ employees and their spouses’ contributions to Cruz have not all been made since O’ Rourke announced his Senate bid. OpenSecrets’ data shows that $1,300 has been given by an individual at Gibson Dunn during the 2018 cycle and that no one else from any of the other Am Law 100 firms has given during that same period.
Brendan Quinn, an OpenSecrets spokesman, told The American Lawyer that Cruz’s Senate campaign committee received money from individuals associated with Sullivan & Cromwell between 2013 and 2016, but not during 2017 and 2018. Quinn noted in an email that prior to that timeframe, some of Sullivan & Cromwell’s contributions went to Cruz’s leadership PAC.