Lawyer contributions pose possible conflict

Attorney general candidates debate implications of campaign funding.
Sunday, July 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:53 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Ideas for campaign finance reform have taken numerous shapes, from lowering caps on contributions to letting contributors donate as much as they want.

Republican lawyer Chris Byrd of Kansas City believes the attorney general and those running for the office, including himself, should not accept contributions from attorneys or law firms. Byrd criticizes incumbent Attorney General Jay Nixon for doing so.

“(Nixon receives money from) the same attorneys that he then sits across from in the courtroom, and we feel that, if nothing else, creates an appearance of impropriety,” Byrd said. “No attorney general should be accepting money from someone he is going to be litigating against.”

Nixon has declined to comment on any election issues before the Aug. 3 primary.

Byrd said the attorney general could accept contributions from companies because he or she could personally recuse himself from cases involving that company.

“However, if a law firm has hundreds of cases before me, I can’t recuse myself from hundreds of cases, because then I cease being the attorney general,” he said. “I cease doing my job.”

In Saturday’s campaign finance report, one Iowa attorney was documented as contributing $150 to Byrd’s campaign. Byrd said the attorney was a friend and that he had received contributions from a couple friends who are attorneys. Overall, Byrd has received a total of $1,200 from attorneys during the campaign season.

Byrd has decided to return all those contributions, and his August campaign finance report will reflect the refunds, he said.

Republican candidate Dewey Crepeau thinks candidates for attorney general should be able to receive contributions from attorneys.

“You don’t know who you’re going to be litigating against and which people you’re not going to be litigating against,” he said. Crepeau also noted that it’s impossible to predict which companies or individuals might become involved in litigation.

Crepeau does believe there needs to be campaign finance reform in general. “The more transparency the better,” he said.

Crepeau said removing contribution caps but keeping full disclosure might be worth trying as a sunset law, which would expire after a couple of years unless it were re-approved.

Libertarian candidate David Browning also believes the attorney general should be able to receive contributions from lawyers. “I think that’s the only people giving contributions,” he joked.

Because Libertarian candidates generally receive little financial support, Browning said, campaign finance reform is not a priority issue for him.

“I don’t have any problem with people getting campaign contributions as long as it’s disclosed,” he said.

Browning said disclosure is important because “That may be the test somebody uses to determine if they are going to vote for you or not.”

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