In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol Riot — and its lower key, but just as disturbing parliamentary corollary — major law firms fell all over themselves to pledge an end to supporting candidates with a demonstrated willingness to thwart democracy. Lawyers, in their own minds anyway, serve as the vanguards of the rule of law, so Biglaw spent early January bragging about putting their money where their well-compensated mouths were.
Some firms, like Holland & Knight, cut off funding and promised to stop supporting the “Sedition Caucus” — the 147 Republican legislators who voted against recognizing the results of the election. Others, like Akin Gump, said it, “will certainly consider the riotous events in Washington, D.C., and the false rhetoric questioning the legitimacy of the recent elections as part of a broad array of factors when determining our PAC giving priorities.”
To offer an edit to Akin Gump’s statement, the word “consider” needed to be followed by “and then ignore.” It turns out that firms making principled stands in January spent the rest of the year signing checks to the same people who voted to legitimize a coup.
Rolling Stone, Protect Democracy, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) conducted a review of firm donations as we roll into the end of the year. Major law firms have contributed $190,500 to the campaigns and leadership PACs of the Sedition Caucus, and $294,000 to two GOP committees providing indirect aid according to the research. This includes both firms that made direct promises and those who tried to finesse their way around it.
The biggest law-firm donor to Republicans voted against Biden’s certification and to GOP party committees appears to be Holland and Knight, a firm with 1,600 employees across 40 countries. In response to the Jan. 6 insurrection and the attempt to overturn Biden’s election victory, the firm said it was freezing all federal donations. Federal campaign records show the firm has given $30,000 to the two leading Republican party committees, which offer an indirect avenue to support those same officeholders who opposed Biden’s certification. The firm has also directly donated $16,500 to multiple members who voted against certifying Biden’s election. (The firm did not respond to a request for comment.)
The article namechecks a number of other firms for making donations after claiming they wouldn’t. Holland & Knight and Baker Hostetler both made pledges to cut off donations, and yet those two firms provided the most money to the individual campaigns and PACs of the Sedition Caucus. One of the most puzzling direct donations came from Covington & Burling’s PAC, which gave $1,500 to Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s campaign while simultaneously collecting $2.4 million or so from the Biden campaign.
Those who donate to Republican committees as an indirect workaround have at least lived up to the very technical promise not to give to the specific GOP legislators who flogged a coup, though a better response would be to just give directly to Liz Cheney. But they won’t do that because Liz Cheney is an empty husk of an influencer right now.
The whole point of donating is to buy yourself a congressperson that can do whatever your clients want. In fact, in some of these cases, the law firm may be a passthrough — earning access to legislators for clients who stood by their own (higher visibility!) pledges not to give to these people. If the mob has more sway than Liz Cheney, then those “vanguards of the rule of law” will be first in line to shower money on the mob.
This is where we would squeeze in a flowery yet dire warning about the danger a society faces when even its lawyers opt for a “government of wingnuts, not of laws,” but cynicism overtakes us. Will clients stand up to this? Will associates? For that matter, will partners stand up to this?
The lesson of the past year, according to this research, is probably not.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.