The Talent

February 1, 2012 7:35 PM

So Who Are the Top Legal Contributors to America's Super PACs?

Posted by Brian Baxter

On Tuesday, The New York Times tracked the top donors to the so-called super political action committees, or super PACs, that came to life in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision two years ago and are making their presence felt in this year's presidential campaign.

Unlike individual donors, who are capped at contributing $2,500 per political candidate during an election, super PAC contributors—individuals, corporations, and labor unions, for instance—can give  unlimited sums in support of, or in opposition to, any number of candidates.

The rise of the super PACs during the current election cycle hasn't been without controversy. Politico reported this week that some campaigns aren't happy with the increased power of the nominally independent entities, and one longtime conservative lawyer who had a hand in the Citizens United case, James Bopp, Jr., told Talking Points Memo this week that he hoped Congress would pass legislation curtailing their activities.

And with three active campaign finance suits—one of them already at the Supreme Court—creating the possibility of further change in the post-Citizens United world, The Am Law Daily decided to have a look at the Times’s super PAC donor breakdown to see which lawyers and law firms have kicked in to back or trash candidates.

The Times's list is only a selection of the most prominent super PACs, which filed reports Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission documenting their "major donors" from the final three months of 2011. Major donors are defined as individuals, corporations, or other entities that made more than $25,000 in super PAC contributions. (Click here for a more detailed look at the super PACs courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets Web site.)

Mitt Romney – Restore Our Future ($30.2 million raised through 12/31/11)

The Am Law Daily has previously reported on the private equity ties between Romney and Boston-based Am Law 100 firm Ropes & Gray. Romney is the cofounder of private equity firm Bain Capital, a longtime Ropes client—the firm advised Bain on the formation of a $600 million fund just this week—and contributor to the former Massachusetts governor's political campaigns.

One of the top donors to Restore Our Future, the nation's top super PAC by donations, according to OpenSecrets, is Bain Capital managing director Stephen Zide. A former Kirkland & Ellis corporate partner, Zide founded the firm's New York office in the early 1990s, and joined Bain in 1997. Zide has given $250,000 to Restore Our Future, according to FEC filings.

Other legal contributors to the Romney-centric super PAC include Palm Beach and Boston attorney Darlene Jordan ($100,000), Bill Graham of Salisbury, North Carolina–based Wallace & Graham ($50,000), and Philadelphia's Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg ($25,000). FEC filings from early last year show that David Weinstein, a lawyer from Newton, Massachusetts, gave $50,000 to Restore Our Future.

Paul Singer, a hedge fund honcho, Harvard Law School graduate, and prominent Republican donor, has given $1 million to Restore Our Future.

Barack Obama – Priorities USA Action ($4.4 million)

The American Association for Justice, the trial lawyers' lobby, has donated $50,000 to this Democratic super PAC, which backs the incumbent, who, though not lacking for Am Law 100 supporters, is lagging a bit behind in the race for super PAC cash.

Newt Gingrich – Winning Our Future ($2.1 million)

This super PAC, which is supporting Gingrich in his primary fight with Romney, received a cash infusion of more than $10 million in January—after the current reporting period for super PAC donors—from Nevada casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and members of his family.

And while lawyers and law firms have been among the top contributors to Gingrich’s presidential campaign—which includes McKenna, Long & Aldridge political law head Stefan Passantino as a key legal adviser—so far none have emerged as major donors to Winning Our Future.

Rick Perry – Make Us Great Again ($5.5 million), Restoring Prosperity Fund ($433,256)

Texas governor Rick Perry dropped out of the Republican presidential sweepstakes ahead of last month's South Carolina primary, and he has since thrown his weight behind Gingrich. Both of the super PACs that had backed Perry, Make Us Great Again and the Restoring Prosperity Fund, have some notable legal contributors.

Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee of The Buzbee Law Firm has given $250,000 to Make Us Great Again. The founder of the super PAC, Texas lobbyist and lawyer Mike Toomey, has contributed $102,174. Jackson Walker corporate partner David Dunlap in Houston has kicked in another $25,000.

The Restoring Prosperity Fund, which before Perry bowed out of the race was called Americans for Rick Perry, has received $25,000 from Latham & Watkins real estate partner George Mihlsten in Los Angeles. Mihlsten is the attorney for tiny Vernon, California, which made headlines last year for its high legal fees and refusal to be annexed into greater Los Angeles.

Jon Huntsman – Our Destiny ($2.7 million)

The former Utah governor and Obama administration ambassador to China abandoned his presidential campaign last month (just before it was sued by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe). But this super PAC,  funded mostly with contributions from Jon Hunstman's father, did have one prominent legal donor: former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner C. Boyden Gray, who left the firm five years ago to become the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, gave Our Destiny $50,000.


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