In wake of U.S. Capitol attack, some law firms decline to halt political contributions

Caroline Spiezio
·3-min read

By Caroline Spiezio

(Reuters) - While major corporations and some law firms stopped contributions to lawmakers after the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, few of the legal industries' most powerful political spenders have publicly taken similar steps.

Five people including a police officer lost their lives as supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the seat of Congress, fueled by Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud.

Firms including Covington & Burling, outside counsel for President-elect Joe Biden's campaign, and lobbying giants Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck issued statements condemning the violence, but stopped short of pledging to suspend donations from their political action committees.

The PACs of the three firms, which wield significant influence in Washington, D.C., were among the ten highest spending for individual law firms in the 2020 election cycle, which overall contributed about $3.2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets website. The donations from the ten firms were roughly split among Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

All ten firms gave to at least one of the Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying Biden's election victory in the hours following the riot, according to OpenSecrets.

Separately, the PAC for the American Association for Justice, a lobbying organization for plaintiffs' lawyers, gave over $2.1 million, almost all to Democrats, OpenSecrets said.

The financial impact of law firm political contributions is "a drop in the bucket," said Michael Miller, an assistant professor of political science at Barnard College, in an email. But these firms' decisions could help send "a clear message about acceptable behavior, that may potentially give bad actors pause."

Just three of the ten top-spending individual law firm PACs publicly suspended contributions in response to the Jan. 6 attack. Squire Patton Boggs and Holland & Knight, which have substantial lobbying arms, froze all contributions, while Cozen O'Connor halted contributions to lawmakers who voted against certifying Biden's victory.

Covington said in a statement that it is undertaking "a comprehensive review of [its] political contributions and policies." The incoming Biden administration has tapped a Covington attorney as special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs.

Brownstein said it will review its policies on political giving "to ensure that they reflect our firm's values."

Akin Gump said its PAC "will certainly consider the riotous events in Washington, D.C., and the false rhetoric questioning the legitimacy of the recent elections as part of a broad array of factors when determining our PAC giving priorities."

McGuireWoods, another top spending firm, said it is suspending federal level contributions, citing "the new Congress and new year."

The American Association for Justice did not return a request for comment about whether it was halting contributions. Neither did Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough and Maynard, Cooper & Gale, whose political action committees also rank among the top ten for law firms. K&L Gates declined to comment.

As individuals, attorneys generally overwhelmingly donate to Democrats, federal election data shows.

(Reporting by Caroline Spiezio; Editing by David Bario, Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)