Law Firms Slow Contributions To State’s Political Campaigns
By AMANDA BRONSTAD
With this fall’s election so far attracting little interest, local law firms have stepped back from their traditional role of bankrolling political campaigns.
Less than two months before the state’s general elections, this year’s contributions from major law firm donors are equal to or less than those of the off-year 2000 elections.
The tepid rate of contributions is the result of several factors, including the lack of hot-button issues, a noncompetitive Governor’s race and tighter budgets because of the lackluster economy.
“I think the Governor is in a good position to win re-election,” said Lee Lipscomb, partner at Engstrom Lipscomb & Lack PC, which has contributed $87,264 as of June 30 to candidates including California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Sen. Martha Escutia and Insurance Commissioner candidate Tom Umberg. The firm gave $113,698 to candidates during the 2000 election cycle.
“There aren’t any consumer bills that are red-hot, and the economy is down,” Lipscomb said. “We don’t have the money we had two years ago.”Among the larger perennial contributors are firms specializing in consumer law, personal injury, product liability and environmental law. Raymond Boucher, vice president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, said the organization contributes about $9 million to the state’s Democratic candidates each election cycle.
Among the eight major donor law firms in Los Angeles that filed their contributions with the California Secretary of State this year, five represent consumer interests. Others are general practice firms.
There is still time for firms to make contributions. In 2000, most firms made their heftiest contributions after June 30. But unlike 2000, most of this year’s contributions are likely to have been made, since much of the attention was focused on the March primaries, not the November general election, said Boucher, a partner at Kiesel Boucher & Larson LLP.
“You saw a lot of different people contribute more money in the primaries this year than they have historically contributed, because whoever won in the primary would win in November,” Boucher said.
The focus on primaries resulted from the re-apportionment of state seats, Boucher said. Seventeen races in March were contested between “anti-consumer” and “traditional” Democrats, he said. Only about six seats statewide are expected to have close votes this November, Boucher said.
So far, Gov. Gray Davis has pulled in $100,000 each from Girardi and Keese and Greene Broilett Taylor Wheeler & Panish LLP. Davis also received at least $10,000 each from Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP and Mazursky Schwartz & Angelo, while Republican candidate Bill Simon received at least $10,000 from Irell & Manella LLP.
“I’m sure someone could give an example of other gubernatorial races that were more contested,” said David Rosen, partner at Rose Klein & Marias LLP, which will contribute another $10,000 to $20,000 in electoral contributions this year. “But it’s a bad idea to count one’s chickens before they hatch.”
Boucher said his firm would contribute more than $100,000 this year, up from $35,000 to $50,000 in 2000. State records indicate his firm has so far contributed $63,130 this year with no contributions filed in 2000.
“Although there are significant contributions to statewide races, such as the Governor and the Attorney General, the perception now is that the Governor, Attorney General and Treasurer are in pretty good shape in terms of their battles,” Boucher said.
Boucher said the Consumer Attorneys of California had to work harder to come up with its $9 million in contributions. The organization spent much of the year reaching out to new donors because its regular donors could not contribute as much as they did in 2000, he said.
“Certainly the economy has had an impact on any decision we make to spend money, whether political contributions or otherwise,” Rosen said.
Rosen could not specify how much the economy has impacted his firm’s contributions, but he said his firm will likely contribute $110,000 this year, down from $153,193 in 2000.