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Law and lobbying firms pump millions of dollars into midterm campaigns

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By Amanda Becker
Monday, November 1, 2010

Lawyers, lobbyists and associations representing business interests have injected millions of dollars into Tuesday's midterm elections, positioning themselves as key influencers in the battle over which party will control Congress.

The political action committees linked to the 10 most generous law and lobbying firms in town doled out more than $5.5 million to federal candidates, party leadership committees and PACs, and the Democratic and Republican parties during the 2009-2010 election cycle. The 10 business associations making the most contributions in town wrote checks totaling nearly $29 million during the same period, Federal Election Commission records show.

PAC figures don't include independent expenditures made by an organization on behalf of a candidate or individual contributions from firm staff, which can extend or even double the amount any one organization spends on a given election.

LAWYERS AND LOBBYISTS

The PACs at K&L Gates, DLA Piper and Holland & Knight collectively generated more than $2 million for federal candidates and other committees. Like their counterparts among the top 10, contributions were bipartisan and slightly benefited Democratic candidates, reflecting a tendency to favor the party in power while maintaining access to elected officials on both sides.

"There was probably more money weighted towards the Republicans in the latter stages of this election as it became more clear that the Republicans could win the House," said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College.

Roughly half of K&L Gates' U.S.-based partners contributed to a firm PAC that directed $777,974 to federal candidates and committees. As of mid-October, about 58 percent of its contributions favored Democratic causes, reflecting the firm's bipartisan approach that money is best spent on candidates already in office. Recent contributions include $1,000 checks written to Republican Rep. Eric Cantor and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in Virginia.

"When I came to K&L Gates, one of the things I heard at pretty much every meeting is that we're scrupulously bipartisan," said former New York Republican congressman James T. Walsh, who is now a government affairs counselor in the firm's District office.

DLA Piper's PAC injected $693,308 into the election, splitting its contributions to candidates nearly evenly, with 49 percent going to Democrats and 47 percent to Republicans as of mid-September, the firm confirmed. Recent contributions included $7,500 to incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn (D) of Illinois, where the firm has a large office, and $2,500 to the campaign of Ohio Republican Rep. John A. Boehner, who is poised to become speaker if his party takes the House.

A Holland & Knight PAC directed $672,855 to candidates and committees. The bipartisan firm aims for a 60-40 percent split each cycle, favoring the party in control. Though earlier contributions tilted Democratic to a greater degree, a flurry of recent contributions to Republican candidates in California, Minnesota, Texas, Florida and other states has resulted in a 58-42 split between contributions to Democratic and Republican causes as of last week, the firm reported.

THE ASSOCIATIONS

Among business associations, the most robust efforts came from the National Association of Realtors, the American Association for Justice and the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Center for Responsive Politics data show.

At the National Association of Realtors, the $4.5 million in PAC money directed at candidates and committees was surpassed by the $5.6 million it spent on its own campaigns promoting candidates in contentious races. The association spent $1.2 million promoting Democratic Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (Pa.), who chairs an influential House Financial Services subcommittee overseeing Fannie Mae and the capital markets, and nearly $800,000 pushing Democratic Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois in a race analysts call a tossup. Foster also serves on the House Finance Services Committee.

The American Association for Justice and the National Beer Wholesalers Association collectively contributed more than $7 million from PACs, though neither reported any independent expenditures. Nearly all of the $3.5 million from the trial lawyers association went to Democratic candidates; the beer wholesalers association handed out nearly the same amount, with a 56-44 split in contributions to Democratic and Republican candidates "who understand the importance of state-based alcohol regulation," said association Executive Vice President Mike Johnson.


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