Durbin gets big bucks from trial lawyers

Chris Rizo Feb. 26, 2010, 12:26am



WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, has raked in big bucks this year from trial lawyers and their political action committees, campaign finance disclosures indicate.

Attorneys from Madison County's SimmonsCooper LLC tops the Illinois Democrat's list of campaign contributors, giving the majority whip's reelection campaign $86,035 this year alone.

Meanwhile, employees from Clifford Law Offices, a large Chicago personal injury firm, has funneled $47,150 into Durbin's campaign coffers from Jan. 1 to Feb. 21, while the plaintiffs' firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP gave him $42,300, records show.

So why so much trial lawyer money going to Durbin this year, especially when he is not up for reelection for four years? The answer is simple, said James Copland, director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy.

"He is the majority whip of the Senate so he can basically prevent any sort of legal reform ideas that are adverse to the plaintiffs' bar's interest from getting through the Senate," Copland said from his New York office. "Similarly, he can help to drive legislation through the Senate to expand litigation, to expand liability."

The trial bar is not alone in backing Durbin's campaign, but those numbers can be a bit misleading, Copland warned.

Global corporate law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, with offices in Chicago, is Durbin's No. 2 contributor so far this year, with its legion of attorneys and political action committee giving him $71,024.

"Kirkland & Ellis is a big, big firm, so that is really not a lot of money when you start thinking about how large the firm is," Copland said, noting that the firm has some-1,500 attorneys.

Since 1989, folks from East Alton-based SimmonsCooper have given Durbin a total of $94,035. But his largest source of lawyer cash has been people at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm and the group's political action committee, giving him a total of $134,606.

In all, lawyers and law firms have given Durbin $3.6 million in political contributions, making the group his No. 1 supporter. In a distant second is the securities and investment industry, which has given his campaigns $1.1 million over the years.

"Durbin is heavily dependent on plaintiff-lawyer funding for their campaign," Copland said, noting that trial lawyers account for seven of his top 20 contributors.

Durbin was elected as Illinois's junior U.S. senator in 1997, after serving seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. His current term is up in 2014.

For his 2008 Senate reelection campaign, Durbin raised a total of $11.3 million. He was being challenged by Republican Dr. Steven Kenneth Sauerberg, who raised $1.1 million for his race.

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