A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
Checkbooks and Balances
January 29, 2002
By Margie Burns
In the stampede of scandals associated with Enron, the issue of campaign finance has fallen behind, in a cloud of dust; the topic of Bush's nominations for judgeships may fall there too. But these topics should not be lost sight of, especially when a law-lobbying firm that both supported George W. Bush financially and represented Enron in court is also poised to produce a federal judge. The nominee in question is Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and which used to be a good court.
Notwithstanding all the publicity over trial lawyers' donations to Democrats, numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics show that the big winner in donations from lawyers in the 2000 election was George W. Bush. Contributions to Bush from attorneys and firms totalled almost $6M -- $5,948,854 -- edging out even Al Gore, #2 on the list of top recipients; Bill Bradley, 3rd; Hillary Rodham Clinton, 4th; John McCain, 5th; and somebody named Rick Lazio, 6th.
In fact, lawyers and law firms topped the CRP list of "Top Industries" for Bush; his only higher donor category was "retired," often a code for managers and/or attorneys who prefer not to specify corporate affiliation.
Predictably, Houston lawyers donated copiously. Houston firm Vinson & Elkins ranks 17th on the list of top 20 contributors over-all, with $529,263 reported so far, 68% of it to Republicans. Vinson & Elkins also ranks 2nd in donations to Bush individually ($202,850)-- with Baker Botts (another Houston law firm, the one with which Andrews Kurth is most closely affiliated) 9th, and Jenkens & Gilchrist 15th. Partners Joe B. Allen, Robert H. Whilden, and Thomas P. Marinis, Jr., of Vinson & Elkins, were Bush "Pioneers" -- volunteer fundraisers who, according to the Bush campaign, raised at least $100,000 apiece. Members of Haynes & Boone, Bracewell & Patterson, and Jenkens & Gilchrist were also Pioneers.
At least neither Vinson & Elkins nor Baker Botts is netting a federal judgeship. But in a quid pro quo of Texas-sized obviousness, Bush has nominated at least six of his campaign donors, including one from Houston, to the federal bench.
Houston's nominee, Priscilla Owen, practiced commercial litigation for seventeen years, according to her bio, as a partner in the Houston firm of Andrews & Kurth. As is typical for this batch of nominees, she gave $1000 to Bush individually. But the $1000 legal maximum is just the cover charge; Andrews & Kurth also gave $4500 to Bush and $6300 to Republicans through its PAC (0 to Democrats), and $20,000 to Bush through individuals. That's $38,000 to Bush and the GOP, not counting other individual donations.
The firm's donations are dwarfed by those of its major clients. According to public records in the Lexis-Nexis database, Andrews-Kurth clients in federal courts include Aetna, Occidental Chemical Corporation, American Express, Amway, El Paso Energy, Salomon Smith Barney and - is anyone surprised? - Enron.
Can-of-worms time. Predictably, George W. Bush was the top recipient of oil & gas contributions in the election, with $1,889,206 in donations (Rick Lazio was 3rd; oil men must really hate Hillary). On the CRP top 20 list of oil & gas donors, Enron was #1 ($2,237,598 donated; 72% of it to Republicans), Exxon Mobile second, BP Amoco third, and El Paso Energy was #4 ($1,116,495 donated; 83% of it to Republicans).
Since 1997, Enron has given over $2.4M in soft money, over $1.8M to Republicans; it has given over $520,000 through its PAC, and over $100K to Bush through individuals; not surprisingly, Enron ranks 12th on the list of top Bush contributors. Kenneth Lay, of Houston, is also a Bush Pioneer from Enron, and just to put the icing on the cake, Enron managers also contributed at least $300,000 to the Bush inauguration, including another $100,000 from Kenneth and Linda Lay.
El Paso Energy has given $460,395 to the GOP in soft money, $383,755 through its PAC, and another $90K to Bush through individuals. Salomon Smith Barney was a piker in comparison, giving $63K to Republicans in soft money, $107K through its PAC, and $36K in individual donations to Bush.
Anything Salomon Smith Barney didn't give, however, Amway did -- $1,138,500 to Republicans in soft money, another $20,000 through its PAC, and at least $12,000 through legal-max individual donations to Bush, totalling about $1.17 million. Then there's Aetna -- $315,90 to the GOP in soft money, another $50,000 through its PAC, and at least $10,000 in individual Bush donations, totalling $375,000. American Express rings up at over $315,000; Occidental Chemical at $40,000. J. Roger Hill of Occidental Chemical is another Bush Pioneer.
Mindboggling as it is, let's tote up some of these numbers. At a conservative (if that's the word), bending-over-backward-to-the-point-of-neckbreaking estimate, Enron gave over $2.4M to the GOP/Bush; Amway $1.17M; El Paso Energy $930K; Aetna $375K; American Express $315K; Conoco $313K; and Salomon Smith Barney $206K. With the comparatively dainty contribution from Andrews & Kurth, that's a corporate halo effect of over $6M for Justice Owen, coming in for Bush and the GOP. This list does not include other Pioneers, friends, deal partners, relatives and spouses.
In anybody's book, this is buying and selling a judgeship - regardless of whether the judgeship is a reward, an inducement, or simply an enabling device.
Barring some of the oil company donations, this is par for Bush's judicial nominees. Not all of them are six-million-dollar women (most are not women), but at least six of them are down in the public records as contributors, along with their law firms and their firms' major clients.
Justice Deborah L. Cook of the Ohio Supreme Court is nominated for the Sixth Circuit (KY, MI, OH, TN). She donated $1000 to Bush and $6700 to other Republicans. (Bush relatives have deeper ties in Ohio than in Texas). With her husband, Robert F. Linton, also a Bush donor, Justice Cook was a longtime partner in Akron law firm Roderick, Myers & Linton, whose clients include Ohio Edison, Provident Life & Accident, and Aetna.
Aetna is also a client of Los Angeles-based law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, in which DC attorney Miguel A. Estrada, nominated for the federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, is a partner. Estrada donated $1000 to Bush, among other contributions; Gibson, Dunn donated $28,000 to Bush through individuals, $5000 through its PAC, and another $11,000 to the GOP. Gibson, Dunn partner Theodore Olson is now Solicitor General (endorsed, incidentally by the Washington Post, a former Gibson Dunn client); Mr. Olson donated $1500 to Mr. Bush (circumventing the $1000 legal max by donating through two "committees"), and about $23K to Republicans over-all. Mr. Justice Scalia's son Eugene, in the same firm, gave Bush another $500, not that that was Bush's largest gift from the Scalias. Eugene Scalia is now Solicitor of Labor, the government's top lawyer in the Labor Department.
Other Gibson, Dunn clients include Intel Corporation and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Intel's PAC has donated $231,088 to the GOP since 1997, and Intel executives gave $10,000 to Bush individually. Enterprise Rent-A-Car donated $130,000 in soft money to Republicans, another $118,992 through its PAC, and another $22,000 to Bush through individuals; executive Ray Wagner is also a Bush Pioneer. When Enterprise Rent-A-Car was sued in Tampa's federal court by its employees over unpaid overtime, its attorney was (Gibson Dunn's) Eugene Scalia.
Gibson, Dunn partners are also on the boards of directors of both 3M Corporation and Transocean Sedco Forex, called the world's largest offshore drilling contractor. With Olson as solicitor general, it will be interesting to see what cases get ushered into court, concerning drilling offshore or drilling in a "harsh environment," Transocean Sedco's other specialty.
From vetting Richard M. Nixon's finances in preparation for the famous "Checkers" speech in 1952, to offering an LA internship last year to the "muy guapo" young George P. Bush, the president's nephew and son of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Gibson, Dunn has been connected.
It's not the only hive of lawyer-lobbyists to serve as a talent pool for the first round of judicial nominees, however. Utah law professor Michael W. McConnell, affiliated with Mayer, Brown & Platt (his resume with the Justice Department lists him as a "Special Consultant" for Mayer, Brown since 1989), is nominated for the Tenth Circuit (CO, KS, NM, OK, UT, WY). McConnell also donated $1000 to Bush individually, as well as to Orrin Hatch (and Rick Lazio). Mayer, Brown & Platt made CRP's list of top 20 law firm contributors in 2000, donating at least $478,505 in the last election, 44% to Republicans, with over $20,000 to Bush by individuals and $61,000 to Republicans in soft money. Mayer, Brown's clients include Dow Chemical Corporation ($241,000 to Republicans in soft money, $150,000 through its PAC) and Novartis AG (parent to crop dusting companies; $256,180 in soft money, $120,000 through its PAC).
Another Mayer, Brown client is giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen, now famously linked with the Enron debacle. In a particularly smarmy connection -- without even the excuse of happening in Texas -- Arthur Andersen and Mayer Brown also signed off on the peculiar arrangements of a Tulsa-based company called Commercial Financial Services, controlled by Andersen and Mayer Brown. CFS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1999; the Bank of Scotland sued Andersen and Mayer, Brown among others, with allegations of fraud, in federal court in Oklahoma. (CFS seems to have had good and sufficient reason to go bankrupt, since its assets were accounts receivable from bad debts; this corporate venture was signed off on by Arthur Andersen and was represented by Mayer Brown as counsel; where are those hardnosed, rockribbed business types when we need them?)
Any case of this sort heard in Oklahoma, if it goes to the appeals court -- inevitably -- will be heard by McConnell if he's appointed and doesn't recuse himself.
Arthur Andersen was also a Gibson, Dunn client. Speaking of bankruptcies, Gibson Dunn is also counsel of record for a Cayman-based bankrupt wireless company with big investors called NextWave Communications, in ongoing litigation with the FCC in federal courts. (NextWave hit its last wave when it bid billions on airwave frequencies in a federal auction, and then went bankrupt when unfortunately it noticed it didn't have the money to pay for same. See hardnosed, rockribbed above.) However, the court noticed -- and commented on -- the fact that a former partner at Gibson, Dunn is now a judge on the appeals court there, and initially dismissed the firm rather than have the judge recuse himself.
NextWave's counsel in this effort, by the way, was Houston-based Andrews & Kurth - home to Justice Owen, 5th Circuit nominee. Two of the Gibson, Dunn lawyers brought on board were Theodore Olson and Miguel A. Estrada. NextWave's investors/creditors in the ongoing litigation are represented by, among others, Jones, Day - home to Jeffrey S. Sutton, Bush's nominee to the 6th Circuit. Other creditors are represented by Hogan & Hartson - home to Bush's other nominee for the DC Circuit, John G. Roberts, Jr. At stake are billions of dollars in value in the publicly-owned airwaves; NextWave, designated in print as a "makeshift" corporation by that notable pinko Robert Novak, has now been awarded $5B by the courts for the licenses it was never in a position to develop.
Were you beginning to believe that this large country of ours was divided up into hopelessly separate regions?
John G. Roberts, Jr., the Hogan & Hartson partner nominated for the DC Circuit, also donated $1000 to Bush -- this really is starting to look like a cover charge -- with $3000 to other Republicans and $3900 to Hogan & Hartson's PAC. The PAC gave $136,000, aside from individual donations, and $30,000 in soft money. Roberts then donated $1000 to the Bush recount effort. Hogan & Hartson clients include Mobil Oil Corporation, 3M, and Hartford Accident & Indemnity.
Ohio attorney Jeffrey S. Sutton, the partner in Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue nominated for the 6th Circuit, also donated $1000 to Mr. Bush. Individual donations to Bush from Jones, Day attorneys total over $38,000. Jones, Day clients include RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Sherwin-Williams (think: lead paint), and Eli Lilly -- all Bush contributors, for obvious reasons. At least Bush didn't appoint Sutton to consumer safety or the EPA.
In a recent development, the Andrews Kurth law firm has now merged with Houston law firm Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton (announced June 19, 2001; final on October 1, 2001). The combined firm, operating under the Andrews Kurth name with 335 lawyers, will be the seventh largest law firm in Texas, according to its statements by press release and public contact Donna Anderson. It will also join Andrews Kurth clients with those of Mayor, Day, including Kaiser Aluminum, KCS Energy, and Charles Hurwitz's Maxxam Corporation.
Imagine walking into a courtroom knowing, from public record, that your judge gave money to George Bush and got his/her judgeship immediately afterward. Funny; it seems like only yesterday that Republicans were criticizing President Clinton for "renting out the Lincoln bedroom" -- giving VIP treatment including invitations for White House overnights in a quid pro quo for campaign contributions. Assuming they were right, does an overnight at the White House even begin to compare to a lifetime as federal judge?
If we're going to reform campaign finance, it only makes sense to limit benefits received by the donor, along with limiting donations received by the candidate. Instead of always placing the burden on the public of having to prove some perhaps-nebulous influence, surely federal law could more easily just prohibit self-evident benefits like federal jobs or contracts from going to campaign donors in the first place.
If donating is going to be called "free speech," then let's keep it free of White House jobs, ambassadorships, judgeships, and cabinet positions. By all means, let's ensure that it be a form of expression rather than payola: no federal contracts for the donor corporation, no federal hiring from the donor law firm.
Some parts of campaign finance reform are easy: give if you wish, but -- as Seinfeld's soup Nazi would say -- no judgeship for you.
* * *
Contributed by BuzzFlash Reader Margie Burns
Articles by Margie Burns have appeared in Legal Times, Salon.com and the Chronicle of Higher Education among other places; she has a BA and doctorate from Rice; and she lives in Cheverly MD.
|DAILY BUZZ||FIFTH COLUMNIST||CARTOONS||SOUTHERN STYLE|
|MEDIA LINKS||LINK ARCHIVES||SEND NEWSFLASH||ABOUT|
otherwise noted, all original