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June 6, 2011 12:09 PM

A Look Back at the Law Firms That Backed Edwards in 2008

Posted by Brian Baxter

Throughout his political career, John Edwards--whose refusal to accept jail time reportedly contributed to the collapse of his plea negotiations with federal prosecutors--relied heavily on lawyers to help fund his campaigns.

With allegations that campaign donations were improperly used lying at the heart of the criminal indictment handed down against Edwards by a federal grand jury Friday, The Am Law Daily decided to look back at the biggest legal donors to his 2008 presidential run.

The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, reported in January 2008 that lawyers and law firms had contributed more than those affiliated with any other single industry to the various Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination that year.

About 62 percent of those bundling money for the Edwards campaign had ties to the legal industry, according to The NLJ, which noted that the percentage was the highest for any Republican or Democrat in the race.

Data compiled by The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) shows that Edwards received more than $7.5 million from lawyers and law firms before dropping out of the 2008 race after the finishing a distant third in the primary in his native South Carolina. The figure represents the bulk of what Edwards raised from donors in 2008, according to CRP data available on the organization's Web site, OpenSecrets.org.

After analyzing data supplied by OpenSecrets, a study by the Campaign Finance Institute and Public Citizen concluded that 327 of the 608 individuals serving as bundlers--those that collect political contributions from close friends and colleagues to deliver to a candidate in a single donation--for Edwards were attorneys.

As we've previously noted, many bundlers are law firm leaders, and the study conducted by Campaign Finance Institute and Public Citizen found that Edwards had nearly twice as many bundlers as Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which he used to raise nearly $30 million. (The Edwards campaign provided no specific information on its bundlers before shutting down in January 2008.)

OpenSecrets data shows that of the top 20 contributors to Edwards's 2008 campaign, 12 had law firm ties. Below are some of Edwards's largest legal donors, whose money came not from the firms themselves, but from political action committees, individual attorneys, and their immediate families. They represent the lion's share of Edwards's campaign cash and point to the overwhelming influence of lawyers' cash:

Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson -- $97,100 -- The Florida firm served as local counsel to Swiss banking giant UBS in its $780 million tax settlement with the IRS and Justice Department two years ago.

Watts Law Firm -- $65,400 -- Now known as Watts Guerra Craft, the San Antonio-based firm is currently serving on a steering committee for Gulf Coast oil spill suits through name partner Mikal Watts.

Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins -- $60,650 -- Now called Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd after a name change last year, the firm that traces its roots to legendary plaintiffs lawyer Bill Lerach, who was a big backer of Edwards in 2008.

Morgan & Morgan -- $53,700 -- The national plaintiffs firm hired former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Jr., earlier this year after he lost a reelection campaign. (Crist can now be found doing personal injury ads on local television.)

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom -- $53,400 -- Skadden partners Gregory Craig and Cliff Sloan are currently representing Edwards on criminal campaign finance charges.

Whitten, Nelson, McGuire, Terry & Roselius -- $51,420 -- The Oklahoma-based plaintiffs firm was another big donor to Edwards's 2008 campaign. (On a side note, Whitten, Nelson appears to be a rarity among law firms in 2011: it does not have a Web site.)

Girardi & Keese -- $43,700 -- The Los Angeles-based plaintiffs firm, regularly among the largest donors to Democratic candidates, shifted its support to Clinton after Edwards withdrew from the campaign.

Sidley Austin -- $41,900 -- The former summer home of Obama, who met his future wife at the firm.

Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles -- $37,450 -- The Alabama-based plaintiffs firm is also a member of the Gulf Coast oil-spill suit steering committee.

Weitz & Luxenberg -- $34,800 -- The New York-based plaintiffs firm is perhaps best known for using environmental activist Erin Brockovich in its TV ads.

Motley Rice -- $34,400 -- Edwards, a fellow plaintiffs lawyer at what was once called Edwards & Kirby, has close ties to Motley Rice name partners and fellow South Carolinians Ronald Motley and Joseph Rice.

Baron & Budd -- $33,940 -- Late cofounder Fred Baron served as Edwards's national campaign finance chair in 2008, before his role making relocation payments to help Edwards cover up an extramarital affair came to light.

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Things are only going to get worse now that the Supreme Court removed all restrictions. At the time of these donations at least there was a cap on how much any one person could give. Now PAC money is unlimited.

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