October 30, 2016

Democratic Leaning Law Firm Engaged In Straw Donor Scheme

A major new report by the Boston Globe has every Democratic candidate this year checking their donor list. That’s because Thornton Law Firm, a Democratic leaning Boston law firm, appears to have been engaging in a straw donor scheme to help Democratic candidates.

The Globe reports that Thornton Law Firm would hold fundraisers for Democratic candidates and then almost immediately give “bonuses” to partners in the amount of their contribution:

“But a striking thing happened the day Tester visited in 2010. Partner David C. Strouss received a payment from the firm labeled as a ‘bonus’ that exactly equaled his $2,400 contribution to Tester’s campaign, the maximum allowed. A few days later, partner Garrett Bradley — until recently the House assistant majority leader on Beacon Hill — got a bonus, too, exactly matching his $2,400 gift to Tester.”

The straw donor scheme did not stop in 2014 though. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Thornton Law Firm has given $343,504 to Democrats in the 2016 cycle. Hillary Clinton received over $10,000 from the firm, and some of the most prominent Senate Democrats have also received tens of thousands of dollars from the shady firm:

  • Russ Feingold: $45,000
  • Maggie Hassan: $29,000
  • Catherine Cortez Masto: $23,300
  • Tammy Duckworth: 22,500
  • Katie McGinty: $22,500
  • Patrick Murphy: $21,800
  • Ted Strickland: $12,500

In total, Thornton Law Firm appears to have given out “bonuses” for up to $1.4 million in campaign contributions for some of the most prominent Democrats in the country. In total, more than 280 contributions “precisely matched” bonuses that were given within two weeks of the donation:

“From 2010 through 2014, Strouss and Bradley, along with founding partner Michael Thornton and his wife, donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic Party fund-raising committees and a parade of politicians — from Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada to Hawaii gubernatorial candidate David Ige to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Over the same span, the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as ‘bonuses’ in Thornton Law Firm records; more than 280 of the contributions precisely matched bonuses that were paid within 10 days.”

What’s especially unusual about Thornton Law Firm’s extensive Democratic giving is that while they are not one of the largest 100 law firms in Massachusetts, they were the “11th-ranked law firm nationally for political contributions in 2014.”

Additionally, the seriousness of these allegations cannot be overestimated. According to the former acting general counsel of the FEC Daniel Petalas, a straw donor scheme is among the “most serious campaign violations” for the FEC. While the election watchdog Larry Noble remarked that people have gone to prison for these types of schemes:

“’Using straw donors to make contributions is illegal,’ said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center and a former general counsel of the FEC. ‘People can go and have gone to prison for this.’”

Since 2010, Thornton Law Firm has made $3.4 million in campaign contributions, with a particular focus on Democratic Senate candidates. Any candidate who received a contribution must immediately return it. Anything short of that and they are complicit in an illegal scheme.