Surprise! Lawyers push big money into presidental politics

If lawyers annoy you, stop here. That annoyance is going to get much, much worse. Same with bankers, too.

By now you know that the candidates for president in 2008 (the well-known ones; not those like our own favorite pol, Doc Slammy) have raised $150 million in the most recent three-month reporting cycle.

And a big chunk of that — nearly $15 million — came from the lawyers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Sidley Austin LLP, which bills itself as one of the world’s largest law firms, leads the pack (good word choice, eh?) with $190,000 in contributions — in just those three months. More than half of that went to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

Who else do the lawyers like?

Not surprisingly, they tossed $4.4 million at trial lawyer, former veep candidate and former senator John Edwards – in just three months. They like Sen. Hillary Clinton, too: She got $2.8 million from the shark-food folks.

The bankers (stock brokers, investment analysts, securities types) are shelling out, too. According to the center, the securities and investment industry has spread $8.6 million to the candidates, with Goldman Sachs and its executives and employees donating nearly $500,000 — in just three months.

But the lawyers aren’t the only industry buying in big to the nascent presidential campaigns. According to the center:

• real estate moguls have ponied up $5.8 million (top dollar-getter: former GOP Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney).
• the Hollywood/entertainment industry: $2.4 million (top dollar-getter: Sen. Clinton).
• the health industry: $2.2 million (top dollar-getter: Sen. Clinton).

The punditocracy has noted that the two parties’ nominees (essentially chosen in the February 2008 national primary blood-letting as states try to grab more electoral-college influence) will have to raise about half a billion dollars each to buy, er, win the presidential election.

The Center for Responsive Politics is a fabulous place to watch the money race. Not only we see the quantity of money candidates raise, but also the quality of the money. Who’s giving it? Who’s getting it?

Right now, the people in charge of money, power and influence in the United States are stepping up to keep that power, money and influence. Let’s keep a close eye on them. Again.

11 replies »

  1. Sure. But these days, believe it or don’t, the lawyers bother me less than those bankrolling the GOPpers, the big corps.

    Who was the banking industry’s preference? (I’d look it up myself, but since I don’t have big money bankrolling me I’m working for a living today….) 🙂

  2. Great point, drdenny. Anytime there’s big money involved, there’s at least a tacit expectation of a quid pro quo. But I’m with Sam in placing lawyers in a somewhat higher circle of hell than bankers and big businessmen. Trial lawyers often provide the only defense for individuals who have been harmed by rapacious corporations, especially when we have a government that always sides with the corporations.

    What we really need is public financing of elections, in order to make them about voters instead of dollars. Arizona has it. Maine has it. There’s no reason it wouldn’t work nationwide.

  3. Robert,

    In principle, I agree. But another change must accompany any serious move (return, actually) to public financing.

    The time candidates are permitted to air ads and actually campaign must be limited as well. Now, I have no idea how to accomplish that. But the dramatic increases in costs of all national campaigns — which drive the need for fundraising and all its attendant sins — is, in part, caused by the recent lengthening of campaigns.

    If candidates need two years to capture the electoral college, then they must support those two years with serious dollars.

    So public-financing limits must be accompanied by campaign duration limits.

    Practically, I see neither happening.

    Thanks for your comment.

  4. I agree, Denny – the LENGTH of campaigns is directly responsible for the COST of campaigns. People begin their presidential runs for the next election roughly as soon as the hangover from Inauguration Day wears off.

    I think the House is in never-ending campaign mode. That’s all they do.

    The only ones spending much time at governance are the Senate – and they’re mostly looking for photo ops types of issues.

    What this does, of course, is explain why we have very little deliberative governance of any kind. And why serious issues – like ending the Iraq debacle, impeaching the Veep and his puppet, and addressing impending environmental crises are treated like publicity stunts or media events – and why instead of a government we have a conservatively dressed celebreality show coming out of D.C.

  5. The last British election was announced on April 5, 2005, and held on May 5, 2005. Sounds like heaven!

    As for the practical possibilities here, drdenny, you’re such a Cassandra! I wish I could disagree.

  6. Gimme a national popular run-off of all candidates. Then let the top two or three — regardless of party — duke it out for one month.

    Then vote.

  7. So lawyers, health companies and hollywood love democrats; who loves the republicans?

    Still, at least this spending gives an indication of what your politicians will do once they’re actually in office. I assume this means that Iraqis will get a massive tort case against the republicans, HMOs and a tear-jerker box-office hit as soon as a Democrat is running the US?

  8. “Gimme a national popular run-off of all candidates. Then let the top two or three — regardless of party — duke it out for one month.”

    I actually prefer an “instant runoff” option instead. You vote for your top 5 candidates and put them in order. The system runs the ballots through once to figure out the two leaders, and then the ballots are re-tallied to figure out which of the two had the most votes when all the other candidates were purged.

    Instant runoffs would be faster,cost less, and will have less voter fatigue (which is bad enough already), but they don’t give people with a bad case of election regret a chance to change their minds.

    Either option would be better than what we’ve got now.

  9. Brian, there’s an even better instant-runoff system. Can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s iterative: votes for the lowest vote-getter are distributed, then the next lowest, and so on until one candidate has a majority. That’s the way it’s done in Berkeley and San Francisco, and Oakland has just adopted it.