The polls aren’t the only thing favoring Sen. Barack Obama: D.C.’s top law firms have given the Democratic presidential nominee more than triple the cash they’ve donated to Republican Sen. John McCain.
Big D.C. firms typically skew blue, but the divide is even wider than it was four years ago, when Sen. John Kerry and former Sen. John Edwards, a prominent former trial lawyer, made up the Democratic ticket. So far this election cycle, Washington-area lawyers and staff from the D.C. 20— Legal Times’ ranking of the District’s highest-grossing law offices—have given roughly $1.5 million to Obama and $450,000 to McCain. The Obama contributions already dwarf the $936,000 given by D.C. 20 firms to the Kerry-Edwards ticket at this point in 2004. The 2004 Republican ticket—led by President George W. Bush—had collected $483,000 during the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
D.C. 20 firms are giving to the parties as well. For instance, Hogan & Hartson is among the top 20 donors to the Democratic National Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and has given $99,838 so far this election cycle. And Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld is on the Republican National Committee’s top 20 list with $135,150 donated this cycle.
The amount of money from Big Law in the District is striking in a year when both candidates have railed against the Washington establishment. Obama is likely benefiting from his own legal background: He’s a former president of the Harvard Law Review, Sidley Austin summer associate, and professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. And it’s logical for lawyers to be drawn to the campaigns, since a number of issues appeal specifically to the legal-minded, says Kevin Wolf, a partner in Bryan Cave’s D.C. office. For example, “Who’s on the next Supreme Court? As a lawyer, I think that’s a very important topic,” says Wolf, who, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has bundled as much as $100,000 in contributions for the Obama campaign.
Five of the companies on a list of Obama’s top 20 contributors compiled by the Center of Responsive Politics are law firms with large Washington offices. In total, lawyers and law firms have bundled $11.7 million for his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which defines bundling as collecting and directing contributions from others on behalf of a candidate.
LAWYERS FOR OBAMA
Wolf held an event at his Arlington, Va., home in June, which he says raised about $75,000. “Basically, I went through my Outlook list on my computer and just asked everyone I know for money—family, friends, old girlfriends—literally everyone I know to contribute.”
A full Rolodex (or Outlook list) is a must when fundraising, and Saul Ewing partner Orlan Johnson says that’s part of the reason lawyers make natural bundlers. He also says the chance to add new business contacts is a perk of fundraising: “It provides you an opportunity to assist your candidate … but it also provides you an opportunity to interact with individuals that you may have not interacted with other than in these circumstances.”
Johnson is a member of Obama’s national finance committee and also sits on the campaign’s energy policy committee. He says about 300 total members sit on the finance committee, and estimates that at least a third are lawyers. “When I go to the meetings, who I see, it’s just a lot of lawyers in the room,” Johnson says. Since Obama is relatively new to Washington, Johnson says it made sense for him to rely on pre-existing connections, such as old law school buddies. The finance committee is “like a natural extension of the groups that you probably are associated with regularly.” Johnson himself has worked on several fundraisers, from an event at Union Station in April 2007 that brought in close to $500,000 to a fundraiser at Oprah Winfrey’s Santa Barbara, Calif., home that raised $3 million.
Cash is also flowing from Williams & Connolly, home to some of Obama’s biggest backers. Partner Gregory Craig is a top foreign policy adviser for the campaign. D.C.-area lawyers and staff from the firm have given $103,072 to Obama, and Craig and partner Howard Gutman both bundle for the campaign.
Gutman has worked on fundraising events in D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, and elsewhere around the country. “I haven’t slept a lot. … It’s not unusual for people to get e-mails from me at 2:30 in the morning,” he says.
Plaintiffs firms are another source of cash for Obama. They’ve typically favored Democratic candidates who have opposed Republican-backed efforts at tort reform. In 2004, prominent members of the plaintiffs bar rallied especially strongly around the Democratic ticket, partially thanks to Edwards. Plaintiffs lawyers played high-profile roles for Edwards’ 2004 and 2008 presidential bids.
Many plaintiffs shops are still donating to the Democrats. Lawyers and staff from Baron & Budd have given more to Obama ($21,546) than they gave Kerry ($17,150). Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein contributed $22,000 to Kerry and $18,120 to Obama. And Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll has nearly doubled its contributions since 2004—its lawyers and staff have given $19,059 to Obama, compared to $10,750 to Kerry.
LAWYERS FOR MCCAIN
That’s not to say McCain has been totally overlooked by lawyers.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McCain has 43 lawyer bundlers raising money for him, or about double the 21 lobbyists bundling for the campaign. The lawyers, though, have bundled less money overall, pulling in $4.9 million compared to the lobbyists’ $6.25 million.
Wayne Berman, managing director of Ogilvy Government Relations, is a co-chairman of McCain’s national finance committee. He and others, such as Jack Oliver III, chairman of Bryan Cave Strategies, and Richard Hohlt, a longtime Republican fundraiser, are among the lobbyists who bundle for the McCain campaign.
Obama has refused to take money from registered federal lobbyists, though some have volunteered for his campaign and many of the law firms on his contributor list have lobbying arms.
Wiley Rein name partner Richard Wiley is a national co-chairman of Lawyers for McCain. He has bundled as much as $250,000 for the candidate, though he declined to talk about his fundraising efforts. Mimi Dawson, who is not a lawyer, co-chairs Wiley’s public policy practice. She says she has raised more than $100,000 for McCain.
And despite Big Law’s disproportionate amount of support for Obama, DLA Piper partner Steven Phillips says he has relied heavily on his contacts within the legal community to raise money for the Republican candidate. “A lot of it has been working in collaboration with partners from the firm and also with friends and clients,” he says. And for both campaigns, it pays to have friends in Big Law.
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at email@example.com.