‘The resolution is not whether the campaign finance system ought to be more regulated … My proposition is simply this: It is broken as it sits today…’
Note: This is the fourth in a multi-part series examining Democrat attorney Marc Elias. This article covers Elias’ role in loosening campaign finance laws. Other articles in the series explore Elias’ involvement in election recounts, ‘sue till blue’ redistricting and orchestrating the infamous Steele dossier.
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) In 2013, Democrat attorney Marc Elias, a partner at the Perkins Coie firm who had served as general counsel for the John Kerry presidential campaign, joined a panel at Syracuse University to discuss campaign finance reform.
In his introductory remarks, Elias offered a revealing anecdote about his own motivations: “My daughter reminded me that when she was 6 and asked me to play a board game with her, the first thing I did, being a lawyer, was I said, ‘Fine, I’ll play Chutes and Ladders, but I want to read the instructions, because I want to figure out how I can win.”
Whether the goal is beating his 6-year-old daughter at a children’s board game, or defrauding American voters and taxpayers by exploiting the vulnerabilities in their most trusted institutions, Elias has been very good at winning for the past two decades.
He has represented a veritable who’s who of left-wing figures, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren.
But lest some liberals see in his efforts a sort of nobility, or at least fair play—using the rules of the game to re-rig, in the Left’s favor, systems that Elias sincerely believed had been rigged against them—his other pursuits, such as loosening campaign-finance laws and shielding his clients from ethics violations, leave no doubt that Elias’s idea of ‘winning’ is not for the betterment of society.
In his current role representing incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D.-Fla., in the most expensive Congressional race to date, whatever the outcome, Elias could see big returns thanks to a 2014 spending-bill rider he helped Congressional leaders to write that raised by more than sevenfold the amount wealthy donors could contribute to national campaign committees for things like attorney’s fees.
‘Doing It to Win’
In a statement Elias made about the current Florida recount—in which his client, Nelson, has trailed behind current Gov. Rick Scott by a narrow margin—Elias said, “We’re doing this not just because it’s automatic, but we’re doing it to win.”
A last-minute coup for Nelson—whose deficit already has narrowed from more than 50,000 votes on Election Day evening to around 12,500 a week later, as boxes of unaccounted-for ballots continued turning up in Broward County under elections supervisor Brenda Snipes—would not be a surprise to anyone.
“My predictions come true with a remarkable degree of accuracy on these things,” Elias said in a conference call interview last Thursday, reported by leftist blog Talking Points Memo.
Even while liberal publications like Mother Jones highlight Elias’s “longshot” plan to recalibrate voting machines in order to discover a supposed 24,000 Democratic “undervotes” on the Senate ticket, a judge in Broward County denied Scott’s request to impound the machines in order to prevent tampering, saying there was nothing substantiating Scott’s accusations of dirty tricks, the Sun Sentinel reported.
“If someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud, they should report it to their local law enforcement officer,” said Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter, before chiding Scott for even insinuating the possibility of Orwellian impropriety: “We need to be careful what we say. Words mean things.”
Lawyer First, Democrat Second
In a profile from Politico, as reported by The Washington Free Beacon, Elias said he was “a lawyer first and a Democrat second.”
However, he has no difficulty in blurring the lines between the two.
In addition to providing legal representation, Elias and his firm have also played a major role in the flow of money to and from Democratic national committees. Perkins Coie notoriously served as the intermediary and money handlers for its clients in the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee with Fusion GPS, through which Elias commissioned opposition research on then-candidate Donald Trump.
The Free Beacon noted that in the past Elias has effectively helped to shield Democratic politicians such as Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes amid separate accusations that each inappropriately used Senate or campaign funds for luxurious travel expenses.
Some cases have involved political conflicts of interest, such as Grimes’ case, in which she chartered vehicles from her father’s catering company. Elias also was deployed for damage control when North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan’s husband was found to be receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal stimulus grants, and in another case where Nevada’s Harry Reid attempted to funnel $31,000 in campaign funding to his granddaughter as a “holiday gift.”
However, while rendering legal services and representing politicians on the campaign trail, Elias and his firm may have their own conflicts of interest to deal with. Campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org ranked Perkins Coie in the top 5 percent of more than 18,000 PACs and organizations it tracks for political contributions.
Nearly all of its contributions all go to Democrats, including two major clients, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which it gave just under $74,000 and $32,000 respectively for the 2018 campaign.
Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, who recently managed to overcome an Election Day deficit to best Republican Martha McSally, was another of the firm’s top recipients, receiving nearly $21,000.
A Broken System
Despite his firm’s mutually serving generosity with Democrats, though, Elias has tried to fashion himself as a champion of campaign finance reform.
Former Federal Election Commission chairman Robert Lenhard told Politico, “There is no Democratic-side campaign finance lawyer who is more important than Marc Elias—that is without a doubt.”
But the issue Elias has is not so much reining in the massive spending and closing loopholes that allow an influx of dark money into races like the one in Florida.
Rather than use his legal clout to challenge the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision, which afforded First Amendment protections to small businesses like a conservative film production company seeking to make non-monetary political contributions, Elias went the other direction, paving the way for mega-corporations like his law firm and billionaire plutocrat clients to have nearly unfettered ability to donate.
Elias, in his 2013 consortium at Syracuse University, said, “The resolution is not whether the campaign finance system ought to be more regulated or ought to be less regulated … my proposition is simply this: It is broken as it sits today.”
A year later, he had achieved his goal of “fixing” the system. Working with his longtime client Reid, the departing Senate majority leader—in cooperation with then-House Speaker John Boehner—Elias helped slip into a year-end $1.1 billion spending bill a rider that raised the amount a wealthy individual donor could give to national party committees from $97,200 to $777,600, according to Politico.
Not surprisingly, the 2018 midterms broke records as being the most expensive on the books, and topping all others is the Florida senate race, which yielded more than $180 million in spending, with roughly half being outside (non-candidate) spending.
In the top eight Senate races alone for the 2018 election cycle, all of which were in tightly fought battleground states, the total cost was $840 million. This is more money than the projected 2018 Gross Domestic Product of 11 of the world’s 193 countries, according to the International Monetary Fund—and certain only to increase in 2020.
Of course, one of the restrictions lifted in the 2014 spending rider was on money that could be applied toward legal fees, Politico noted, “including some for legal fees that are likely going to be collected by [Elias’] own firm.”
As Elias told Politico, his area of law “is always interesting and usually rewarding.”