Gubernatorial candidates “working” for law firms.

I’ve been researching a blog entry for a few weeks, but I see that Anita Kumar went and did me one better, turning out an article on the topic in today’s Washington Post. What’s up with candidates for governor “working” for law firms? Both Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds work for law firms, although it’s tough to see how they can actually bill many hours while running for governor. Creigh began working for the Framme Law Firm in June of 2007 after conservative critics pushed him out of working for his prior firm because they employ lobbyists, which is a no-no for legislators under state bar standards. Bob McDonnell did something a bit different—he took a job with Huff, Poole & Mahoney, the firm that he worked at until 2005, and started up with them again as soon as he resigned as AG in January. That is, he took a job that he has no intention of doing and that his employer has no expectation that he will do. Kumar explains:

The firm lists McDonnell as one of its 23 lawyers, but the voice mail at his law firm office redirects callers to his campaign headquarters.

McDonnell, whose home and campaign office are in Richmond, said he has been to the firm once since he rejoined and he expects to attend meetings once or twice a month. “They understand I’m going to be campaigning full time,” he said.

And of Deeds, Kumar writes:

[Firm founder Larry] Framme said Deeds is a salaried employee and is paid for the value he brings to the firm. He said that Deeds handles as many cases as time permits but that he understands his main focus is campaigning.

“You have a lawyer running for governor,” Framme said. “You support him because it’s the right thing to do.”

So while Deeds was given a job with the intent that he’d work there, though surely in a significantly limited capacity come 2009, McDonnell was given a job with the apparent understanding that he wouldn’t be working at all.

This is just the way of the attorney general. Back in 2005, Jerry Kilgore quit to run for governor and took a job with Williams Mullen. In 2001, Mark Earley went to Troutman Saunders. In 1997, Jim Gilmore went to LeClair Ryan. We have to go back to Mary Sue Terry in 1993 to find an AG who didn’t step down to join a law firm and run for governor. This is a long-standing practice, one that a lot of political insiders see as totally reasonable, if only by virtue of being how it’s done. But that doesn’t make it right.

Of course, candidates need to feed their families like everybody else, and Kumar writes about that briefly:

McDonnell and Deeds are now employed at medium-size firms that do no lobbying, and both said they are trying to balance the need to support their families with running for governor full time. If candidates can’t bring home a paycheck while campaigning, they said, the only people who would run for office would be those who do not understand the financial struggles of their constituents.

“You’d only get independently wealthy people running for governor,” McDonnell said. “That would probably not be a good system.”

I don’t want to split hairs here, but I see a difference between a supportive employer saying “go for it, run for governor, though obviously you’ll be working less” and a company who hires somebody to do nothing in hopes that he’ll be elected governor. Neither thrills me, but there’s at least a difference in intent.

Given that Virginia campaign finance laws permits unlimited contributions to candidates, we can see that this isn’t a method of funneling money to a candidate beyond some permissible limit. But it is pretty clearly the provision of a gift to a candidate, and it ought to be disclosed accordingly. I’ll buy that it might not be necessary if the candidate already worked for that employer, but if neither party is even pretending that the candidate works for the employer, I suspect most people can agree that’s simply a gift, and should be treated as such under Virginia campaign finance law.

The spirit of Virginia’s campaign finance law is anything goes, but disclose everything. This sort of arrangement is very much in violation of that spirit.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

2 replies on “Gubernatorial candidates “working” for law firms.”

  1. If you’ve got someone at your firm, like Jerry Kilgore or Bob McDonnell, who is a former Attorney General, then you don’t necessarily need tons of billable hours out of him or her to make it worth hiring them. A 10 minute phone call with that person could provide insight to how the state might respond to a particular legal strategy which would save hundreds of hours of other attorneys’ and paralegals’ time.

    If the guy is going to be campaigning full time and you’re only going to get 4 or 5 hours out of him a week, then maybe you pay him $200,000 a year instead of the $2,000,000 that he would otherwise be getting.

    I would expect that having an experienced legislator like Creigh working for a firm at a similar level would also provide some of the same time of value. Not quite the same as having a former AG to call up on demand, but still pretty good and worth paying some money for.

    Bottom line being that this is not a form of corruption.

  2. I didn’t—and wouldn’t—argue that this is a form of corruption. I just think that if gifts should be disclosed, that this form of employment should be disclosed in that manner, as it really is just a very large gift.

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