Despite the media’s focus on “dark money” groups, many trial law firms, such as Morgan & Morgan, have significant influence in Democrat and Republican and national and local politics.
“Dark money” groups, or political organizations that are not required to disclose their donors, have often been the focus of political scrutiny on both sides of the aisle. However, trial law firms often have a similar or even greater influence in American politics and benefit from the lack of media attention that dark money groups receive. Trial law firms also have a decidedly left-wing bent.
For instance, in 2020, Law360 found that the 400 largest law firms donated $20 million to Biden’s 2020 presidential election, while law firms had only donated $1 million to then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, said law firms have increasingly donated to Democrats.
“In the recent past, a typical large law firm’s attorneys and staff would give about one-quarter of its campaign contributions to the Republican presidential candidate. That’s now at the high end, an outlier,” Muller said.
Employees at the trial law firm Morgan & Morgan, which touts itself as the country’s largest personal injury law firm, donated $780,000 to Biden.
Morgan & Morgan donated $2.4 million to Democrats in 2020.
John Morgan, the founder of Morgan & Morgan, held a fundraiser for Biden at his Florida home in 2019. Morgan is a champion of legalizing medical marijuana and raising the minimum wage in Florida.
Morgan emphasized that the trial law firms’ donations to the Democrat Party extend beyond its donations to Biden’s campaign; many staffers have also donated to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Covington & Burling LLP, another large trial law firm, donated more than half a million dollars to Biden’s campaign. The firm also has many Barack Obama alumni, including former Attorney General Eric Holder. The law firm also collected more than $1 million in fees from the Biden campaign.
All five of the top law firms donated significantly more to Biden’s campaign than Trump’s; law firm Sidley Austin donated 20 times more to Biden than Trump.
Morgan even flew Frank Biden, Joe Biden’s younger brother, to the president-elect’s inauguration. Morgan personally donated $355,000 to the Biden Victory Fund in August 2020.
Samantha Zager, a deputy national press secretary for the then-Trump campaign, in October 2020, said it should not surprise readers that trial law firms prefer Biden over Trump. Zager said:
It shouldn’t be news that rich, liberal lawyers in Biden’s pocket are desperately trying to make up for his lackluster candidacy or that every big law firm has lawyers on both sides of the political aisle. President Trump’s campaign is powered by everyday Americans who have benefited from his bold leadership, and that support will power him to reelection.
A 2015 study conducted by Harvard Law School, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago found that law firms skew more liberal than other professions such as banking, accounting, medicine.
Morgan said, “The best poll is financial contributions. Forget about all these other polls. Look at the money.”
Influence over Opioid Contracts in Kentucky
Morgan & Morgan’s influence extends beyond national and Florida politics; the high-powered trial law firm also has deep roots in Kentucky.
Morgan & Morgan signed in December 2017 a contract, obtained by Breitbart News, with then-Attorney General and now-Gov. Andy Beshear (D) to investigate and help with litigation regarding opioid conduct in manufacturing, distribution, and dispensing, including but not limited to “McKesson Corporation and potentially other entities and individuals.” The contract term extended from December 2017 to June 2018 but stated that it could be “renewed for unlimited two-year terms.” Beshear renewed the contract in June 2018, which extended it to June 2020.
In September 2017, then-Gov. Matt Bevin (R) criticized Beshear’s continuance of the opioid contract with Morgan & Morgan, believing that the attorney did not follow the proper approval process. Republicans have also criticized Beshaear’s time as an attorney at Stites and Harbison, which helped Perdue Pharma.
Bevin sued over the contract, and the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bevin.
The people of Kentucky should be the primary beneficiaries of any opioid settlements, not Andy Beshear’s friends and donors with huge contingency fee contracts. The Supreme Court’s denial of a rehearing today shows that the Court is firm in its position that the Attorney General is not above the law and must comply with it just like every other state agency.
In November 2019, Bevin lost to Beshear, and Daniel Cameron (R) became the next attorney general, changing the dynamic around the opioid contract fight.
Cameron soon hired former Bevin administration official Barry Dunn as his deputy attorney general. Cameron also hired Bevin’s communications director, who had criticized the Morgan & Morgan opioid contract. Cameron also hired three Bevin lawyers who had argued against the contract.
However, even though the contract would have expired in June 2020, Cameron signed four new contracts with Morgan & Morgan, which are effective from September 2020 to June 2022. The contracts with Morgan & Morgan, obtained by Breitbart News, involve litigation with distributors, manufacturers, and pharmacies.
The same rates apply for each of the four contracts; however, each is capped at $20 million per contract.
Cameron’s office claimed that politics has no place as it relates to its opioid litigation contracts. A spokeswoman for Cameron said, “This litigation has no place for politics; it’s too important for the people of Kentucky.”
The spokesperson added, “Furthermore, Kentucky’s procurement law is clear that it is illegal to award or not award contracts based on politics.”
Florida Fights Back with “Anti-John Morgan Bill”
Over the last decade, Florida has approved several ballot measures to the state Constitution that legalized medical marijuana, restored felon voting rights, and added funds to land and water conservation. Republicans, seeing the outsized influence of large donors, such as John Morgan, influencing ballot drives, took action to curb their influence.
Republican lawmakers introduced two bills that would make it harder for political organizations to get future constitutional amendments on the ballot. Florida’s H.B. 699 would impose a $3,000 limit on campaigns to political committees sponsoring proposed constitutional amendments. The cap would be lifted after the Florida secretary of state certifies that the committees certify that enough signatures have been gathered to put the amendments on the ballot.
Morgan spent more than $6 million on a 2020 ballot initiative to gradually raise the Florida minimum wage to $15 per hour and largely backed a 2016 amendment to legalize medical marijuana.
Morgan said that the proposals would subvert “democracy,” claiming:
It is aimed at subverting our democracy and giving power to a few, not all the people. They are erecting impossible barriers to deny the purest and most direct form of democracy. Here and across the country, we are looking at the deconstruction of what made us great: democracy.
“It eliminates those that have over-influence and who can influence these ballot initiatives through their dollars,” he explained.
GOP Attorneys General Cut Ties with Leftist Law Firms
Conservative legal leaders have continued to push Republican state attorneys general to cut ties with law firms tied to the Democrat Party.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen cut ties with Motley Rice, which was doing legal work for the state even though the law firm has donated over $2 million to the Democrat Party since 2016. Lawyers for the firm also donated $127,000 to President Joe Biden’s campaign. Joseph Rice, a partner at the firm, hosted a fundraiser for Biden in his South Carolina home in February 2020.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon:
I applaud Attorney General Knudsen’s decision and I hope other states will follow his example. Too many AGs are allowing leftwing trial lawyers to use the power of the government to enrich themselves and their liberal dark money allies at the expense of the rule of law.
A spokeswoman for Knudsen said:
Attorney General Knudsen initiated a review of outside counsel contracts at the outset of his term to ensure Montana taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck. We found that it was common practice for previous administrations to hand out millions to their liberal trial lawyer buddies, who then turn around and help fund left-wing political groups that Montanans oppose.
The spokeswoman said, “We expect law firms we do business with to always work for the best interest of our state.”
Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.