Trump bump: Court fights draw big money
into attorney general races
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[July 31, 2017]
By Dan Levine and Lawrence Hurley
(Reuters) - Four years ago, Frances
Broaddus-Crutchfield, 74, gave $500 to the campaign of Virginia's
Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring.
This election cycle, the lifelong Democrat who lives on a farm in
Powhatan County, Virginia, upped the ante, donating $6,500 so far to
Herring's re-election bid. "These are desperate times," she said.
Like many Democratic state attorneys general, Herring has made legal
challenges to the agenda of President Donald Trump a priority. He joined
with attorneys general in other states to challenge Trump's executive
order banning travel to the United States from six predominately Muslim
countries and to defend former President Barack Obama's Clean Power
Plan, which aims to slash carbon emissions.
Those fights, and the prospect of others, are drawing record amounts of
campaign contributions into attorney general races in a number of
states, according to campaign finance records and more than a dozen
interviews with attorneys general, challengers, political operatives and
Attorneys general, who as the top elected legal officers in each state
are charged with defending state agencies from lawsuits as well as
initiating litigation on their own, have always helped shape national
But their influence grew during the Obama administration, when
Republican attorneys general regularly sued the administration over
immigration and the environment. Now, with Republicans controlling the
White House and Congress, Democrats are using the same playbook to
challenge some of Trump's initiatives in the courts.
Donors from both parties have taken notice and are pouring money into
upcoming attorneys general campaigns. In his most recent campaign
filings, Herring reported raising about $2.8 million through the end of
June - over three times more than he had at this point during his
campaign four years ago.
"What I am seeing is a lot of energy," Herring said.
Herring's Republican challenger this November, John Adams, has also done
well. A corporate defense lawyer who worked in George W. Bush's White
House, Adams has raised about $1.5 million, roughly 26 percent more at
this point than the Republican candidate in Virginia had in 2013.
"When I first ran in 2012 I would tell people this is one of the most
consequential offices, and people would give me a funny look," said Bob
Ferguson, Washington state's attorney general who successfully sued to
block Trump's first travel ban. "I don't get that look anymore."
The national fundraising arm for Republican attorneys general, RAGA,
announced raising a record $7.4 million in the first six months of 2017,
45 percent more than at this point during the last election cycle in
2015. Republican AGs have filed legal briefs defending Trump's travel
ban and other policies.
"The substantive work we are doing helping the Trump administration, but
also weighing in on a lot of regulatory issues, is motivating people,"
said West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey, RAGA's chairman.
Meanwhile, the Democratic AG's counterpart, DAGA, raised about $3.1
million between January and June, DAGA executive director Sean Rankin
said, 73 percent more than in the first half of 2015.
DAGA hired full time finance staff for the first time this year, Rankin
said, and launched its first candidate recruiting program. "Four years
ago people weren't moving at this pace," he said.
To be sure, some donors are motivated by more than simply whether a
candidate supports or opposes Trump. C. Boyden Gray, who served as a
White House counsel and then Ambassador to the European Union under two
Republican presidents, doubled his donation in the Virginia AG's race
this year, largely because he thinks Adams has the talent to aspire to
even higher office.
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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring speaks at the Virginia
Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson party fundraising dinner
at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S. June 26, 2015.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
But Gray also said he recognizes the growing stature of attorneys
"They've upped their game over the last decade," Gray said.
RAGA decided this year to end a longstanding custom to avoid
spending money against Democratic incumbents, and DAGA followed
suit. Neither committee has yet filed individual donor lists for the
first half of 2017; the deadline is Monday.
Republicans currently hold 29 state AG seats across the country.
Next year, 32 AG elections are scheduled including the District of
In Wisconsin, Republican attorney general Brad Schimel has raised
about $454,000 through the end of June, even though he is not up for
reelection until November 2018. In his 2014 campaign Schimel had not
raised that much until about three months before his election.
A representative for Schimel did not return requests for comment.
Schimel faces Josh Kaul, an attorney who has raised about $175,000
since he launched his run in April. Kaul's law firm, Perkins Coie,
served as top election law adviser to Hillary Clinton's campaign
Kaul's campaign has already drawn RAGA's attention, which funded a
web site targeting him. RAGA has also funded online ads against Iowa
Attorney General Tom Miller, who is expected to run for reelection
next year, and set up a website attacking Aaron Ford, a Democratic
state senator in Nevada eyeing an AG run in 2018.
In Colorado, four Democrats are currently vying for the AG
nomination. The fundraising leader, Phil Weiser, served as a
technology advisor in the Obama White House and has raised about
$355,000 through the end of June, almost four times more than the
Democratic candidate had raised at this point in 2013.
The incumbent, Republican Cynthia Coffman, has disclosed about
$40,000 in contributions to her AG committee. However, Coffman is
also mulling a run for governor, and it is unclear whether donors
are awaiting her decision before they write checks.
Coffman did not respond to a request for comment.
Weiser, who has made fighting Trump the centerpiece of his
messaging, says Democratic donors are making a "sophisticated
investment" to confront the administration.
"I'm pushing on an open door," Weiser said.
(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco and Lawrence Hurley in
Washington; editing by Sue Horton and Paul Thomasch)
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