Lawyers are embittered on the mid-term elections: why the 30% drop in donations?


Welcome to the Big Law Business Section on the evolution of the legal market written by me, Roy Strom. Today, we delve into a seething mystery: why lawyers’ political contributions have declined this cycle. Register to receive this column in your Inbox on Thursday morning.

Lawyers don’t like candidates? Or what’s going on?

Political contributions by lawyers and law firm employees are down more than 30% since the last midterm elections. Lawyers haven’t given so little since 2010. The profession is on track to match its level of giving from 2006, when Dennis Hastert was a speaker.

Lawyers’ tight wallets come as total medium-term spending is expected to hit a record $9.3 billion, the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign donations on OpenSecrets, said in September. .org. The previous record, $7.1 billion, was set in 2018.

The drop in donations from lawyers has baffled experts.

“No matter how you slice it, their prominence in the campaign finance landscape has diminished,” said Andrew Mayersohn, committee researcher at

The largest declines among large law firms occurred at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Gibson Dunn & Crutcher; and Sidley Austin, down 62%, 47% and 34%, respectively, according to data from OpenSecrets.

So far this cycle, Skadden attorneys and staff have contributed less than $400,000, their lowest amount since 1998, according to OpenSecrets.

That’s down sharply from the roughly $1 million they paid for midterms in 2018.

According to OpenSecrets, only a handful of large companies exceeded their contribution levels in 2018, including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (up 46%); Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney (+24%); and Kirkland & Ellis (+10%).

Lawyer partisanship has remained relatively constant. More than three-quarters of the contributions went to Democrats, roughly matching the group’s historical partisan leanings.

One factor that may contribute to the decline: lawyers working from home.

Major law firms regularly hosted political candidates for meet-the-lawyer sessions. It’s often a way to convince some partners to donate to candidates, said Jon Henes, a former Kirkland & Ellis partner who served as Kamala Harris’ 2020 national finance chairman.

This midterm season, however, Henes said many of these events are taking place over Zoom, which doesn’t attract the same attraction as the chance to shake hands with a politician.

“Law firms traditionally opened their offices to political candidates to meet with lawyers and clients,” said Henes, who is now CEO of strategy and communications firm C Street Advisory Group. “But varied return-to-work schedules have made it difficult to do big in-person fundraisers at law firms.”

Lawyers, law firm employees and law firm political action committees paid about $130 million to political candidates and groups this midterm cycle, compared to nearly $190 million dollars in 2018, according to OpenSecrets.

Excluding the unemployed and retirees, lawyers and law firm employees accounted for 7.8% of federal hard money contributions in the 2022 cycle. That number fell from 10.1% in the 2018 cycle, a said Mayersohn.

The big differences in giving this year are hard to explain, said Derek Muller, a professor at the University of Iowa School of Law who has studied the political contributions of law firms.

Some law firms have halted donations from their political action committees to Republican congressmen who voted against certification of the 2020 presidential election. Some of those firms, like Squire Patton Boggs, have resumed donations to these members shortly after January 6.

Even so, the expenditures of law firm political action committees represent only a fraction of the total contributions that lawyers and law firm staff regularly make as individuals, which law firms lawyers do not control by politics.

Law firm PACs contributed approximately $9.5 million in the 2022 cycle, compared to approximately $13 million in 2018. Law firm PAC contributions have remained relatively flat over the years, reaching approximately $15 million in the 2008 and 2010 cycles.

And the decline in contributions is not limited to Republicans. Lawyers have given Democrats significantly less — down about $44 million in total from 2018 — even as their favored political party faces an uphill battle to maintain majorities in both houses of Congress.

Mayersohn of OpenSecrets said another theory stemming from a broader trend in campaign finance also did not explain the decline.

There has been an influx of personal information about small donors (those giving less than $200) as online fundraising platforms have fueled an increase in small individual donations in the past two elections. These platforms must report personal data on all donors, while individual donors who donate directly to candidates only report personal information, such as occupation, on donations over $200.

But the importance of lawyers isn’t being diluted by a growing number of small donors, Mayersohn said. The share of hard-money contributions from lawyers and law firms also decreased from 2018 to 2022 by limiting datasets to contributions over $200, he said.

Of course, the midterm elections have not yet taken place. Could the final campaign giving reports show a late rise in avocado donations? Don’t bet on it.

Final donations are unlikely to significantly close the gap to 2018 numbers. gave in 2018 towards the end of the cycle, according to the data.

So it’s a mystery.

What’s going on, law firms? If you’re a lawyer who stopped giving to politicians, tell me why.

worth your time

On the fire: My colleague Justin Wise had three great stories over the past week. He told how leaked videos led to the disappearance of a crypto lawyer. He introduced Quinn Emanuel’s partner who has become crucial to Elon Musk’s Twitter management. And he wrote about Perkins Coie’s transition away from political work.

On the internal salary: Microsoft Corp. gave its longtime top lawyer, Bradford Smith, around $23.4 million in compensation after promoting him to vice president last year, reports Brian Baxter.

On crypto restructurings: Paul Hastings was punched by a group of Core Scientific Inc. Convertible bondholders, one of the world’s largest bitcoin miners, fear they will run out of cash by the end of the year, Rachel Butt reported for Bloomberg.

It’s all for this week ! Thanks for reading and please send me your thoughts, criticisms and advice.


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