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March 8, 2012 2:28 PM

Texas GOP Senate Hopeful Attacked by Primary Foe for Being Partner at "Liberal" Morgan Lewis

Posted by Victor Li

UPDATE: March 8, 2012, 3:31 p.m. EST. The third paragraph has been updated to include information on Cruz's background. Also, the last paragraph has been updated to incorporate information about how much in contributions from lawyers and law firms Cruz has received in the Senate race. 

In Texas, which hasn't sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1988 and hasn't had a Democratic governor since George W. Bush denied Ann Richards a second term in 1994, Republican candidates go to great lengths to burnish their conservative credentials—even if doing so means tying fellow members of the GOP to Democrats or, worse still, liberals. Case in point: Texas lieutenant governor David Dewhurst.

Late last month, Dewhurst—the leading Republican contender to replace retiring U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison—hurled the "liberal" epithet at the candidate he apparently feels is his toughest challenger, former state solicitor general and current Morgan, Lewis & Bockius appellate litigation partner Ted Cruz.

In a 35-second campaign ad posted on YouTube, Dewhurst claimed that 84 percent of Morgan, Lewis–connected political contributions made over an unspecified period, or more than $750,000, went to Democrats. The Dewhurst ad also said the firm had donated more than $200,000 to President Barack Obama. Cruz's hiring was announced by the firm on May 5, 2008 after his five-and-a-half year tenure as state solicitor general came to an end. Cruz, who splits his time between the firm's Houston and Washington, D.C. offices, was the first Hispanic to serve as solicitor general in Texas.

"Why," the ad asked in closing, "has Ted Cruz chosen to partner with liberal activists that fund Democrats?"

"This is hypocrisy at its highest level," Dewhurst campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch wrote in a follow-up blog post clarifying that the $750,000 figure was calculated beginning from Cruz's start date at Morgan, Lewis. "How can Texans expect Ted Cruz to stand up to Democrats in Washington when he doesn't have the backbone to stand up to his own firm, which has served as President Obama's personal checkbook?" Dewhurst's record of cutting spending and lower taxes, Hirsch wrote, made him the true conservative candidate in the race.

The Cruz campaign took issue with being blamed for how his colleagues spend their money.

"Ted Cruz obviously cannot control which candidates are supported by other people at the firm where he works," campaign spokesman James Bernsen said via e-mail, adding that he believes the ad was meant to distract voters from Dewhurst's own liberal tendencies. "The reason Dewhurst is launching this attack is that he's trying to cover up his own support for a state income tax and the fact that he flew to Washington to hold an official Dewhurst for Senate campaign reception at the home of Obama crony Tony Podesta."

Bernsen was referring to a February 24 Breitbart.com blog post that linked to an article by the Sunlight Foundation in which the Podesta event was mentioned. Dewhurst spokesman Hirsch declined to comment about the reception, referring The Am Law Daily to a subsequent Breitbart.com post denying that the event was a fund-raiser and stating that there were no Democrats present.

In highlighting what it calls Morgan, Lewis's liberal leanings, the Dewhurst campaign cites the Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer Web site, which pulls data from OpenSecrets.org and FollowTheMoney.org.  According to the site, Morgan, Lewis employees, their family members, and the firm's political action committee have made a combined total of $2.23 million in political donations  since 1989, with 69 percent of that going to Democrats.

Eight of the top ten individual recipients of Morgan, Lewis–affiliated donations are Democrats, according to Influence Explorer, with Obama collecting $202,734, former U.S. senator Arlen Specter—a longtime Republican-turned-Democrat—receiving $101,700, and Hillary Clinton getting $101,138. The two Republicans in the top ten—neither of whom got Morgan, Lewis-connected contributions in the six-figure range—were Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, who ranked fourth and eighth on the list, respectively.

In the current election cycle, the donations stack up a bit differently. Fueled in part by Cruz's candidacy, people or groups affiliated with Morgan, Lewis have made $142,711 in campaign contributions since 2011, according to Influence Explorer, with 65 percent of that sum going to Republican candidates. At $44,718, Romney has received the most Morgan, Lewis money; Cruz places second with $24,150. (Obama has received only $11,450 in Morgan, Lewis–related contributions so far this cycle.)

According to Influence Explorer data, Cruz's main primary opponents—Dewhurst, former ESPN commentator and pro football player Craig James, and former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert—have not received any Morgan, Lewis–connected contributions. (With uncertainty continuing over Texas's redistricting plan, the date of the primary has not been set.)

The Am Law Daily did some fact-checking of its own, and found that, since May 5, 2008, Morgan, Lewis–affiliated individuals and groups have indeed donated more than $750,000 to Democratic candidates and groups. During the same period, however, we found that Republican candidates and groups received $267,803 in donations tied to the firm. That means Democrats got 74 percent, not 84 percent, of the total donations made by Morgan, Lewis–affiliated individuals and groups.

Sunlight Foundation spokeswoman Liz Bartolomeo declined to comment on the Dewhurst ad. "It's not really our job to fact-check ads," she says, adding that the Dewhurst campaign did not contact the foundation in doing its calculations. As for our math, Bartolomeo said we used the data set correctly and that the numbers we came up with seemed correct to her.

Meanwhile, Morgan, Lewis probably isn't the first law firm that comes to mind when the words "liberal activists" are mentioned. Its labor and employment litigation group, for example, has an impressive record of defending major companies that has repeatedly qualified it as a finalist in—and in 2006, the winner of—The American Lawyer's biennial Labor and Employment Litigation Department of the Year contest.

Morgan, Lewis was named a finalist again in the most recent version of the contest for representing a former IBM executive who went to Dell, Inc., in spite of having signed a noncompete agreement; Hewlett-Packard Company when it tried to land a high-ranking IBM executive; and Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc., when that company's vice president of operations attempted to jump to rival Hostess Brands, Inc. The firm also defeated class certification in a Fair Labor Standards Act case against Dollar General Corporation involving employees at 8,000 stores.

As for its political sympathies, the firm considers itself nonpartisan.

“We make very few political contributions as a firm, and our partners are free to support any candidates they deem worthy," Morgan, Lewis spokeswoman Frances Marine Bravo said via e-mail. "Our lawyers and employees make contributions in their individual capacities to candidates throughout the country and to all political parties. We have partners involved with both parties in politics and community service, and the firm has long been home to lawyers who have served in Republican and Democrat administrations. We are proud of their service."

Bravo also called Cruz "a fine partner, a fine person, and an outstanding lawyer" and said that the firm "wished him well in his desire to serve our country.”

According to Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, Dewhurst's ad carries extra resonance in Texas, where lawyers tend to be unpopular. "I think in many southern communities, law firms are unpopular because they often have unpopular clients," West says. "They also tend to defend issues that don't have a lot of general support."

West also says that he sees more and more ads employing the "guilt-by-association" tactic. "[Cruz] is one lawyer out of many, and it's unfair to attribute the actions of every other lawyer at his firm to him. But in today's world, anything goes. If a law firm has unpopular clients, candidates will try and tie their opponents to those clients. It's a way to appeal to conservative voters by arguing that the law firm helps liberal activists."

That said, Dewhurst has not shied away from accepting money from law firms. According to Influence Explorer, he has taken in $160,700 from lawyers or law firms during the 2011–12 cycle, with two Am Law 100 firms—Fulbright & Jaworski and Locke Lord—among his top ten donors. Cruz, in the meantime, has received more than $312,000 from lawyers or law firms during that same timespan, with two Am Law 100 firms—Jones Day and Morgan Lewis—in his top ten.

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