The IRS scandal is a genuine scandal, for sure; efforts to portray it as merely a “scandal” within quotation marks, as by the L.A. Times’s Michael Hiltzik, are well answered by Megan McArdle, Patterico, Ed Krayewski, and (implicitly in advance) by this Josh Barro column exploding the notion that 501(c)4 status was somehow intended only for volunteer fire departments and the like and not for politically engaged citizen groups.
Once the scandal momentum gets going, however, people start in on all sorts of efforts to connect dots that may not have any necessary connection or even qualify as dots at all. Example: at the Daily Caller this morning, reporter Patrick Howley is out with a story headlined, “Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner’s husband’s law firm has strong Obama connections.”
Curious, I read on to see which law firm with strong Obama connections Lerner’s husband, an attorney named Michael Miles, is a member of. It turned out to be Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, a pillar of the Atlanta legal establishment known for its strong tax practice.
Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan is a so-called BigLaw firm. Per the American Lawyer’s profile, it has 387 lawyers and represents all sorts of clients, with an emphasis on corporate work across a wide range of industries.
So what’s the evidence that Sutherland has “strong Obama connections” or is tight with White House Democrats? Here it is: according to Howley, the firm:
hosted a voter registration organizing event for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, praised President Obama’s policy work, and had one of its partners appointed by Obama to a key ambassadorship.
Really? In a 387-lawyer BigLaw firm, those are the strongest Obama links Howley was able to come up with? As with virtually all BigLaw firms, Sutherland has attorneys active in both parties who host events favorable to one side or the other. It took me only a minute or two on search engines to confirm that Sutherland lawyers and alumni are quite successful in landing prominent appointments under Republicans. Here’s a 14-year Sutherland alum (though he’d moved on to other employers in the interim) who served as National Executive Director of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney in 2000 and went on to a distinguished career as ambassador appointed by that administration. Here’s a Sutherland attorney (“top lawyer at the Pentagon for six years”) nominated by President George W. Bush to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Of course, some BigLaw firms do have a distinct coloration that falls toward one side of the political spectrum while tolerating the occasional maverick from the other. Is this true of Sutherland? I consulted the Open Secrets database and found that in the last election cycle the firm’s lawyers donated $41,700 to Mitt Romney and $35,413 to Barack Obama. In Congressional races, the firm’s lawyers donated $38,040 to Republican candidates and $25,350 to Democrats. The biggest recipient by far in the Congressional races? Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who got $16,250 from Sutherland lawyers. Overall, these figures would rank Sutherland as not a particularly heavy hitter among law firms in federal donations. Twenty other law firms’ attorneys gave upwards of $1.2 million in the last election cycle, mostly leaning much more toward the Democratic side than did the donations from Sutherland’s attorneys.
I suppose “Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner’s husband’s law firm has strong Ted Cruz connections” would have made for too confusing a headline on a Daily Caller lead story.