Biden Beats Trump, At Least In BigLaw Donations

(October 30, 2020, 5:15 PM EDT) -- BigLaw attorneys and staff have collectively poured millions in individual contributions into the campaign coffers of Democratic nominee Joe Biden, according to a review of federal records, while contributing just a fraction of that to the president's re-election campaign.

While the Trump campaign has spent more campaign dollars on BigLaw legal counsel than any other presidential candidate, President Donald Trump has been vastly outraised when it comes to securing contributions from the employees of the largest U.S. law firms.

A Law360 analysis of Federal Election Commission records filed between January 2019 and October 22nd, the last filing deadline before the election, shows that individual donations from attorneys and other employees at firms on the Law360 400 overwhelmingly went to Biden's campaign.

Law360 identified more than $20 million in contributions to the Biden campaign from attorneys and staff at the 400 largest law firms in the U.S., as compared with about $1 million in contributions to the Trump campaign from attorneys and employees of those firms.

The analysis, which examined the candidates' principal campaign committee filings with the Federal Election Commission, looked at individual donations. Donors disclose their employer.

Derek T. Muller, law professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, said that the pattern of campaign contributions from attorneys and staff at large law firms has dramatically shifted over time.

"In the recent past, a typical large law firm's attorneys and staff would give about one quarter of its campaign contributions to the Republican presidential candidate. That's now at the high end, an outlier," Muller said in an email.

"It's too soon to say whether attorneys at these firms are reacting to President Trump in particular or to the Republican Party as a whole, and we'll have to wait to see how things shake out in 2024," he added.

Employees at plaintiffs firm Morgan & Morgan, which touts itself as the largest personal injury law firm in the U.S. and has more than a dozen offices around the country, have donated more than $780,000 to Biden's campaign.

The founder of Morgan & Morgan, John Morgan, held a fundraiser for Biden at his Florida home last year, and has been an outspoken activist in Florida in campaigns to raise the minimum wage and legalize medical marijuana.

In an interview with Law360, John Morgan said the total contributions to support the Democratic nominee for president from attorneys and staff at the firm amount to far more than just the individual contributions to Biden's principal campaign committee, since some members also contributed to the Democratic National Committee's fundraising efforts.

Still, Morgan said there are certainly a range of political leanings and affiliations within the large law firm.

"We have 600 lawyers. I'm very careful not to impose on people's beliefs," Morgan said.

Attorneys and staff from Covington & Burling LLP also topped the list of donations, contributing more than $500,000 to Biden's campaign haul. The law firm boasts many Obama administration alumni, including former Attorney General Eric Holder.

The firm has also been tapped to advise the Biden campaign, and according to FEC filings has so far collected more than $1 million in fees from the campaign.

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The firms whose lawyers and staff have contributed the most to the Trump campaign are K&L Gates LLP, Winston & Strawn LLP and McGuireWoods LLP. Still, attorneys and staff from all five of the top firms donated significantly more to the Biden campaign than to the Trump campaign. For example, at Sidley Austin, attorneys and staff poured nearly 20 times as much in donations into Biden's coffers as Trump's.

And at the five firms that saw the highest contributions to the Trump campaign from employees, the total was dramatically lower than that of the highest contributions from BigLaw firms' employees to the Biden campaign.

When asked to comment on the results of Law360's analysis, the Trump campaign said they were unremarkable.

"It shouldn't be news that rich, liberal lawyers in Biden's pocket are desperately trying to make up for his lackluster candidacy or that every big law firm has lawyers on both sides of the political aisle. President Trump's campaign is powered by everyday Americans who have benefited from his bold leadership, and that support will power him to reelection," Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign said in an emailed statement.

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The Trump campaign has also paid out an unprecedented amount in legal bills to large law firms including Jones Day, as well as Porter Wright, Husch Blackwell, and FordHarrison. At all those firms, employees have donated significantly more to the Biden campaign than to the Trump campaign.

The Biglaw behemoth Jones Day, which has represented the Trump campaign and pulled in more than $4.5 million since January 2019 in legal fees paid by the campaign, saw relatively few donations go from its attorneys and staff to Trump.

Law360 only identified about $9,000 in individual contributions from Jones Day attorneys and staff to the Trump campaign. By contrast, Jones Day employees poured nearly $250,000 into Biden's campaign, reflecting similar contribution trends by members of the firm seen in the 2016 race.

A Jones Day representative did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives for Porter Wright, Husch Blackwell and FordHarrison either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. 

The sharp divide in BigLaw attorney and staff donation tallies does echo patterns seen during the last presidential election cycle, when a Law360 analysis revealed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton outpaced Trump in donations from the biggest of Biglaw.

It also reflects the results of the broader fundraising race this election season. Biden has dramatically outpaced Trump in fundraising efforts recently.

Biden's fundraising exploded in September. Campaign contributions poured into his campaign, which reported raising $383 million together with affiliated committees, as compared with $248 million the Trump campaign and affiliated committees disclosed. That fundraising bonanza for Biden can also be seen in contributions from the attorneys and staff at the largest U.S. law firms, who poured more than $5 million into Biden's campaign in September, as compared with about $200,000 into Trump's.

But lawyers also have favored Democratic candidates in recent years, according to a 2015 study examining lawyer's ideological leanings.

Most lawyers at large law firms tend to lean to the left of the ideological spectrum, even as BigLaw firms are not overtly partisan, according to a 2015 analysis of lawyers' campaign contributions conducted by professors at Harvard Law School, Stanford University and the University of Chicago.

That study, while noting that few U.S. lawyers hold extreme ideological views, found that the profession as a whole skews more liberal than other similarly highly educated professions such as banking, accounting and medicine, and BigLaw lawyers are no exception.

While the donations decisions of large law firm attorneys and staff may be following a well-established pattern, the outsized scale of this election season's donations could serve as a referendum of sorts, Morgan & Morgan founder John Morgan said, as he recalled an axiom he'd heard from a longtime politico.

"The best poll is financial contributions. Forget about all these other polls. Look at the money," he said.

Representatives for the other firms declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. The Biden campaign also could not be reached for comment.

--Additional reporting by Ben Jay. Editing by Pamela Wilkinson.

Methodology: Law360 reviewed quarterly, monthly and pre-general election filings from Donald Trump and Joe Biden's principal campaign committees from January 2019 through Oct. 22, 2020, the last filing deadline before the presidential election. The review examined contributions from donors who listed their employer as a Law360 400 firm, a ranking of the largest U.S. firms by attorney headcount. The figures reflect individual giving, not law firm contributions. In FEC filings, donors identify their employer. The tallies include all receipts from individuals reported by the principal campaign committees, including joint fundraising transfers and those delivered to the campaigns through conduits like ActBlue or WinRed.

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