Skip to main content
Entrepreneurs
Business Observer Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 17 years ago

Politics & Money

Share
Holland & Knight LLP is one of the top political campaign contributors of all law firms in the nation.

Politics & Money

Holland & Knight LLP is one of the top political campaign contributors of all law firms in the nation.

By David R. Corder

Associate Editor

Homer Duvall III shares a common bond with colleague Barbara Yadley. The Holland & Knight attorneys each contributed at least $1,000 so far to the 2004 presidential and congressional election campaigns. That makes the Tampa Bay area lawyers among the most generous of the law firm's political givers in Florida. That's where the similarities end, though.

Duvall, a St. Petersburg real estate lawyer, put $1,000 on President George W. Bush's re-election campaign. Yadley, a Tampa financial transactions lawyer, gave $1,000 to Holland & Knight's federal political action committee (PAC), which is split almost evenly so far on contributions to Democrats and Republicans. A $500 contribution also shows Yadley likes Betty Castor as the Democratic candidate to replace retiring Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida.

Such individual attorney interest in national politics explains why the state's largest law firm ranks among the national leaders in law firm contributions to the 2004 presidential and congressional campaigns, according to an analysis of federal election data by Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.com).

The nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog estimates the Tampa law firm's PAC, soft money donors and individual lawyers so far have contributed $252,629 to the 2003-04 election cycle. That amount ranked Holland & Knight eighth in the nation among all law firms, according to the nonprofit group's analysis of the most recent data available from the Federal Elections Commission.

The generous nature of the Holland & Knight attorneys is institutional in character, says Steven Elrod, the firm's Chicago executive partner and chairman of the committee that oversees the firm's eight separate state PACs.

"The reason you see such high levels of campaign contributions at our law firm is because historically the partners of this firm have a rich tradition of active participation in civic life," Elrod says. "That stems from the teachings of the late Chesterfield Smith, who encouraged all attorneys to be engaged in and participate in civic and government affairs. I note also the name partner in our firm, Spessard Holland, was a Florida governor and a prominent U.S. senator."

Of all the law firms with a large presence in the Tampa Bay area, only Washington, D.C.-based Piper Rudnick LLP outpaced Holland & Knight in total contributions through Nov. 1. Its lawyers, PAC and soft money givers contributed $255,174. The totals include only those lawyers who contributed at least $200 and voluntarily responded to campaign requests for employment information.

"It's fair to say the great majority of the contributions are listing the name, the address and name of the employer and the occupation," says FEC spokesman George Smaragdis.

Campaign contributions should rise rapidly as law firms file year-end reports and as the November general election approaches.

For instance, John Merrigan, chairman of Piper Rudnick's federal affairs and legislation practice group, says the firm's PAC raised about $450,000 as of year-end. Although it hasn't yet filed its year-end PAC report, Holland & Knight estimated its 2003 federal PAC total at about $215,000, up from $126,000 as of mid-year.

At Piper Rudnick, Merrigan says, the process of campaign giving is serious business. "We have a large regulatory and legislation practice and a large real estate practice," he says. "So by the nature of our process, we're a firm engaged in the political process."

To emphasize that point, Piper Rudnick's PAC created a matching contribution program, says Michael Bedke, a real estate attorney in the firm's Tampa office. At an attorney's request, the PAC will consider a match if the requester contributes at least 25% of the total contribution.

"Before I could come to the PAC and say, 'let's raise $100,000,' they say, 'show us your check for $25,000,' " Bedke says. "Then the PAC will determine how much it will put in. It requires each of us to have some skin in the game so to speak."

It is important to keep in mind most lawyers and law firms consider political contributions as a line item, a cost of doing business, says Clearwater lobbyist Mary Repper. For 24 years, Repper worked as a state and local campaign strategist, representing politicians such as Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, and state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Tampa, the Senate president-elect.

"Lawyers understand the clout that contributions bring probably better than any other professional group out there, except maybe the pharmaceutical industry," Repper says. "It's benefited them throughout the years. First and foremost, it's for the betterment of their profession, whatever that may mean, whether it's against the insurance industry, doctors or what's the hot topic at the moment.

"They've learned the game probably better than anybody," she adds. "It shows at every level, and it pays dividends."

Such a perception explains why the Piper Rudnick PAC prefers equal distributions to Republican and Democratic interests. Merrigan says the Piper Rudnick PAC year-end report shows Republicans receiving about 55% to 56% of its disbursements. At Holland & Knight, the Democrat-Republican split is about 52-48%.

"The philosophy always has been that clients represented at our firm are actively involved in political activities with both parties," says Holland & Knight government law attorney Peter Friedman, who serves on the committee of partners that oversees the firm's federal PAC. "And the PAC appreciates that and ensures the contributions are split 50/50 as much as possible."

That's not to say Holland & Knight attorneys contribute on such an equal basis. If fact, the Center for Responsive Politic's most recent analysis shows that the law firm's PAC contributions and individual lawyer contributions, when combined, split 61% Democrat to 39% Republican. During the 2001-02 campaign cycle, however, the split was 57% Republican, 43% Democrat.

The effort to ensure an equal split is a policy shared at Tampa-based Carlton Fields PA. Although it doesn't operate a federal PAC, the law firm prefers 50/50 distributions through its state PAC.

"As a firm politically, we're neutral," says Carlton Fields President Tom Snow. "The firm is very diverse in character and consequently we don't choose sides in political campaigns and in politics. In most election years, the firm contributes equally to the various parties and candidates. We feel it's a part of the responsibility to make contributions to support the political process.

"Our attorneys are very much involved as individuals in the political process, and that's their obligation and right fully supported by the firm but only by their individual interests," he adds.

Sometimes the choice on how to contribute comes down to just personal likes and dislikes and less about business objectives. For instance, Ben Hill III, managing partner of Tampa-based Hill Ward & Henderson PA, has contributed $2,000 to President Bush's re-election bid and $1,000 to Graham's campaign before the Democratic U.S. senator announced his retirement. Hill served in 1983 as then-Gov. Graham's general counsel.

"I try to select a person who expresses the ideals I subscribe to and has a political agenda that is most similar to mine," he says. "It's not unusual for me to support someone who has been and is a good friend."

Such an emphasis on personal preferences accounts for why Hill Ward does not operate a PAC. "From our perspective, any contribution we make is as individuals and not as a firm," he says. "A lot depends on what motivates the individual."

That's also a policy adopted at Morgan Colling & Gilbert, the Orlando-based personal injury law firm. Donald Buckler, managing partner of the firm's Tampa office, says his $2,000 contribution last year to the John Edwards presidential campaign reflects only his personal interests in politics not professional interests. He doesn't expect others in the office to subscribe to his political beliefs.

"I just strongly believe that this guy is good for what this country needs," Buckler says. "That's my personal opinion. I like to put my money where my mouth is. We encourage our attorneys to get involved in communities, getting on boards and committees, but certainly nothing in the political process."

To an extent, however, it's probably in the best interests of attorneys such as Buckler to support Edwards. After all, Edwards is a North Carolina personal injury attorney. And historic data shows personal injury lawyers tend to stick together on common issues, primarily through the Association of Trial Lawyers of America PAC and its affiliated state groups. As of mid-year last year, the trial lawyers PAC reported $1.4 million in contributions. It hasn't yet filed a year-end report.

"The trial lawyers have a tremendous lobby network and a very effective team in place that utilizes the contributions to the betterment of all the firms," Repper says.

Attorney contributions

to federal campaigns ($)

Law firm20032002200120001999

Piper Rudnick86,05132,39215,24432,20020,393

Holland & Knight73,9147,45028,89315,05124,050

Foley & Lardner60,12544,75032,55043,10046,750

Akerman Senterfitt28,82537,7719,70021,99026,698

GrayRobinson27,65022,05410,8007,95012,000

Morgan Colling17,25027,3004,0005,00026,250

Ruden McCloskey12,1004,7501,0004,5001,400

Carlton Fields9,2506,0001,5004,5007,000

James Hoyer8,0007,2009,0006,50026,900

Salem Saxon*6,5004,0006,00017,25010,750

Hill Ward4,7502,0002004,2501,500

Stearns Weaver4,5002,5002,2503,9505,000

Butler Pappas4,3000000

Fowler White2,75075002,000700

Johnson Pope2,0001,5001,00002,500

Echevarria2,000001,5000

Shumaker Loop1,7502,45002,0501,000

Ford & Harrison1,5001,3002,0001,9001,250

Trenam Kemker1,25095007500

Notes: National totals include contributions from lawyers employed at law firms with a presence in the Tampa Bay area. It does not include joint-fundraising contributions or dollars from political action committees. Totals include only those contributions from lawyers who voluntarily disclosed employer's identity. *Firm has since dissolved.

Source: Federal Election Commission

Related Stories

Advertisement