Top Clinton Campaign Lawyer Helped Open Big Money Floodgates

Clinton has claimed she wants to reduce the amount of money in politics

Marc Elias / AP
June 22, 2015

Hillary Clinton’s top campaign lawyer was a key figure in a fight that allowed wealthy individuals to drastically increase the amount of money they could give to party committees, despite pledges by Clinton to combat money in politics.

As the Clinton team was shaping up earlier this year, they quietly brought aboard Marc Elias, a top campaign finance lawyer. Elias, who is a partner at the Washington D.C. law firm Perkins Coie and was general counsel for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, was just one month removed from drafting a provision that contradicted Clinton’s stated promises.

Elias was called in by the office of Harry Reid late last year to help craft a provision added into the $1.1 trillion spending bill at the last minute. The provision effectively raised the amount of money donors can give to political parties from $97,400 to $777,600.

The sudden addition of the provision surprised legislators on both sides of the aisle. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) commented at the time she did not know about it until one day before the vote on the year-end bill.

Politico reported that Elias’ firm, Perkins Coie, could benefit from the provision’s stealth implementation, which also allows for higher contributions to the legal fees of the committees.

Alongside Elias, Perkins Coie is led by Bob Bauer, who served as chief counsel to the Obama White House from January 2010 to June 2011. The firm, which is described as having a "stranglehold" on Democratic clients, has raked in more than $40 million in legal fees since 2000 from clients ranging from Obama to the Democratic National Committee.

The Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, all of whom use the services of Elias, denied that he was working on their behalf as he drafted the provision.

Clinton has said ‘Revitalizing Our Democracy’ depends upon battling money in politics.

While the details during her official campaign kickoff speech this past Saturday were vague, she reiterated that she would support a constitutional amendment to undue the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

"Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations," Clinton said during her speech. "If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United."

While Clinton has said that decreasing money in politics will be a focus of her campaign, she began meeting months ago behind closed doors with people capable of donating vast amounts of money to super PACs that support her.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Clinton began ramping up her efforts to raise money by attending her first private meeting with potential big money donors and supporters of Priorities USA.

During that same week, Clinton attended a private gathering at the home of the billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer. During the 2014 elections, Steyer pumped $73 million into numerous campaigns.

Some progressive activists criticized these meetings as hypocritical, CNN reported at the time.

An anonymous Clinton campaign official responded to the criticism by saying that Clinton needs to meet with Super PAC mega-donors to compete with Republicans.

"With some Republican candidates reportedly setting up and outsourcing their entire campaign to super PACs and the Koch Brothers pledging $1 billion alone for the 2016 campaign, Democrats have to have the resources to fight back," the Clinton campaign official told CNN. "There is too much at stake for our future for Democrats to unilaterally disarm."

Requests for comment from the Clinton campaign, Elias, and Perkins Coie were not returned.